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A Guide to Provenance Research at the Archives of American Art

Online Resources for World War II Era Art Provenance Research

Online Resources for World War II Era Art Provenance Research

In 2012, the Archives of American Art received a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to support a major project to preserve, process, and create Web-searchable online finding aids for eleven collections that are valuable archival resources for World War II era art provenance research. Collections processed for this project include the personal archives of World War II Monuments Men S. Lane Faison,Walter Horn, Thomas Carr Howe, James J. Rorimer, George Leslie Stout and Otto Wittmann, as well as the papers of art historians/curators Perry Townsend Rathbone and J. B. Neumann. The records of Schaeffer Galleries and World House Galleries were also processed, and those of art dealer Victor Spark. This project builds on the success of the earlier Kress support for the digitization of the Jacques Seligmann & Co. records. The Kress Foundation also provided support to develop this webpage devoted to provenance research at the Archives.

Detailed finding aids for all of these collections are now available on the Archives’ website, providing researchers with much expanded content information, box and folder inventories, and links to related collections and oral histories. Select items have been digitized from nearly all of the collections and are available online, and the papers of New York City art dealer Victor D. Spark have been digitized in their entirety.

The personal papers of Monuments Men S. Lane Faison, Walter Horn, Thomas Carr Howe, James J. Rorimer, George Leslie Stout and Otto Wittmann provide users a unique perspective on the activities of this extraordinary group of art historians and war heroes tasked with protecting cultural monuments during the war, and later with locating, identifying, and attempting to return to their rightful owners the massive quantities of art and artifacts that were looted by Nazis.

U.S. Army Monuments Men Lieutenant Daniel J. Kern and German art conservator Karl Sieber examining a panel of the Ghent Altarpiece looted by the Nazis and discovered  hidden in the Altaussee salt mines in Austria by the Monuments Men, 1945.  Thomas Carr Howe papers, Archives of American Art.
U.S. Army Monuments Men Lieutenant Daniel J. Kern and German art conservator Karl Sieber examining a panel of the Ghent Altarpiece looted by the Nazis and discovered hidden in the Altaussee salt mines in Austria by the Monuments Men, 1945. Thomas Carr Howe papers, Archives of American Art.

The official record of the work of the Monuments Men is documented in the federal government records found in the U.S. at the National Archives, at the National Archives in Koblenz and Berlin, and among French, Dutch, Austrian repositories. Additional Monuments Men (and Women) papers are found in private repositories as well, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The papers at the Archives of American Art, however, illuminate a more personal perspective and provide researchers with a comparative resource to better contextualize the role of American art historians and conservators in the war years and their aftermath.

Collections with new finding aids available online also include the Perry Townsend Rathbone papers, which provide important archival documentation about his role as a curator and museum director in Detroit, St. Louis, and Boston, as a close friend and associate of major art dealers such as German émigrés William R. Valentiner and Curt Valentin, and as an advisor and consultant to American collectors such as Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., and David Rockefeller. The papers include materials about the relationship between Rathbone and artists such as Max Beckmann, as well as letters between Rathbone and modern art advocate Curt Valentin. In his letters to Rathbone, Valentin writes at length about his adjustment to the United States after he left Nazi Germany in 1937, and his work at the Buchholz Gallery in New York, which he later renamed the Curt Valentin Gallery. The Jacques Seligmann gallery records also contain documentation of sales and purchase transactions with Curt Valentin. Also found is an additional related collection, Legal Records Relating to the Estate of Mathilde Beckmann.

The records of dealers and galleries recently processed include those of J. B. Neumann, Victor D. Spark, Schaeffer Galleries, and World House Galleries. They provide information about the American art market during the 1920s to the 1960s. Many of these dealers were émigrés from Europe. The records contain sales ledgers, stockbooks, correspondence, business records, photographs of works of art and exhibitions, as well as printed materials such as brochures and exhibition catalogs, many of which are rare.

Valentin Gallery. The Jacques Seligmann gallery records also  contain documentation of sales and purchase transactions with Curt  Valentin. Also found is an additional related collection,  Legal Records Relating to the Estate of Mathilde Beckmann.
Valentin Gallery. The Jacques Seligmann gallery records also contain documentation of sales and purchase transactions with Curt Valentin. Also found is an additional related collection, Legal Records Relating to the Estate of Mathilde Beckmann.

The Schaeffer Galleries had been in operation in Berlin, Germany from 1925 to 1939, and in New York from 1936 to 2000. When Hanns S. and Kate Schaeffer left Nazi Germany and moved permanently in the U.S., they specialized in Old Master paintings and drawings and became central figures in the American art trade for more than 50 years in one location on Park Avenue in New York City.

J. B. Neumann arrived in the United States in the 1920s and founded the New Art Circle Gallery in New York City. Before then, he had art galleries in Berlin, Munich, Dusseldorf, and Bremen, Germany. In addition to scattered professional and personal correspondence with artists, museums, and galleries, such as Josef Albers, Leonard Baskin, Max Beckmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Abraham Rattner, and Georges Rouault, the J. B. Neumannpapers include catalogs from both the New Art Circle Gallery and the World House Galleries, further evidence of the close relationships among many of the art dealers during the 1930s through the 1950s. Exploring these sometimes complex interrelated business relationships as documented in multiple collections often results in more fruitful research results and provenance information than can be found in just one collection, or in just one repository. For example, J.B. Neumann papers are also found in the Museum of Modern Art archives.

Another case in point is the provenance research on Paul Klee’s painting Pierrette among the records of World House Galleries. From 1959 to 1972, the gallery researched the provenance of the painting, disclosing their findings to potential donors. The Klee painting’s provenance and authenticity is also referenced in the correspondence of German modern art expert Charlotte Weidler, found in the Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art records as well as correspondence in the J. B. Neumann papers. The weight of archival evidence found in three different but related collections helps validate the provenance of this work of art.

The Victor D. Spark papers are an excellent overall resource for provenance research and are distinguished by their depth and detail. Spark was one of the foremost American art dealers in antiquities and decorative arts, and among the first to foster and support the growth and appreciation for collecting in the field of contemporary European art. His clients included major American and European art collectors, as well as public institutions. The Spark papers include a wealth of artist correspondence, client correspondence, and meticulous financial records and stock and sales ledgers. The entire collection has been digitized through the Kress grant, dramatically increasing access for art provenance research. Also among the holdings of the Archives is an un-transcribed oral history interview with Victor Spark conducted in 1975.

These newly-processed and digitized collections are merely a sample of the types of materials, paths of research, and archival collections among the Archives’ holdings that will prove indispensable for World War II era art provenance research. While each collection is different, both in content and types of records, they are often related to one another and complement the official records found in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and in repositories across Europe, as well as other significant holdings of gallery records, such as those found at the Getty Research Institute and the National Gallery of Art Archives.

Installation view of a German Expressionist exhibition at the Curt Valentin Gallery, between 1951 and 1955. Perry Townsend Rathbone papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Installation view of a German Expressionist exhibition at the Curt Valentin Gallery, between 1951 and 1955. Perry Townsend Rathbone papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
 

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