Provenance research concerns itself with the ownership-history and property-rights of artworks and artefacts. The significance of a particular artwork is not just a question of its aesthetic qualities, but also its history and the resulting responsibility for the consequences of that history in our times. Questioning the rightful ownership and the property-transfers of artworks and artefacts always needs to concern political, legal, moral and emotional aspects.

After Gurlitt

The acceptance of the Cornelius Gurlitt Estate in November 2014 marked a change of perspective. Based on the 1998 “Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art“, the 2009 “Terezín Declaration”, and the "ICOM – Code of Ethics", the Kunstmuseum Bern accepted long-term responsibility for provenance research, as well as transparency in dealing with research-findings.

There is no question about the return of artworks and artifacts for which historical property-change constitutes Nazi-looted art. For less obvious cases, the Kunstmuseum Bern strives to find a fair and just solution for the claimants and the institution that takes ethical and moral sensibilities of both sides into account.

Provenance-Research Department

The provenance research at the Kunstmuseum Bern concentrates on the circumstances of ownership-transfer for individual artworks and the history of the museum’s collections. This includes all items in the museum’s collection, which were created before 1945, and which have joined the holdings of the Kunstmuseum Bern since 1933. The Cornelius Gurlitt Estate is a particular focus of the Provenance-Research Department.

The Provenance-Research Department, created in 2017, is independent and is administered by the museum director. A Steering Committee decides the content emphasis and ensures freedom in decision-making. The decisions of the Steering Committee require consent from the Board of Trustees of the Dachstiftung Kunstmuseum Bern – Zentrum Paul Klee.

The Steering Committee includes the director of the Kunstmuseum Bern – Zentrum Paul Klee and a Board Member of the Dachstiftung Kunstmuseum Bern – Zentrum Paul Klee. An Advisory Board supports the Steering Committee in specialized and moral-ethical matters. The Provenance-Research Department continues to be financially supported by private foundations.

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