What is provenance research?

Provenance research deals with the origin and ownership of works of art. The aim of such research is to describe an object’s history and to document its changes of location or ownership across the life of the object. The focus is on researching artworks whose change of hands occurred in connection with contexts of injustice, such as during the Nazi regime or as a result of colonialism.


Why at Kunsthalle Basel?

The archive of the Basler Kunstverein documents the artworks and artists that have been represented in exhibitions across the history of Kunsthalle Basel. Often, correspondence with museums, galleries, and collectors have been preserved. Archives are essential for provenance research, as all sources must be taken into account, and research results should be traceable.

The letters, lists, and photographs in the archive of the Basler Kunstverein can provide information about the transnational interconnections of the transfer of cultural property, which are relevant for provenance research. Knowledge of the entry, exit, exhibition, loan, and sale of works condenses the artifact’s history — gaps can be closed. The processing of the documents at Kunsthalle Basel makes them accessible for internal and external research.

Since 2021, projects supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture have been underway in the area of provenance research, in which visual and textual documents in the archive of the Basler Kunstverein are being made progressively accessible.



2021–2023 Visual and textual in-depth research of the holdings of the archive and photo archive of the Kunsthalle Basel from the 1930s and 1940s for provenance research and provenance clarification, with particular reference to the Nazi-looted art in the sense of the declaration of the Washington Conference of 1998

The partial estate of the Robert Spreng photo studio, located at the Basler Kunstverein’s photo archive, will be made accessible visually as well as textually with the holdings of the archive. The photographs of the former photo studio, most of which were commissioned by Kunsthalle Basel, document works of art that were in the building for exhibitions or as Deposita, i.e. artworks or collections deposited at Kunsthalle Basel over an extended period. Artwork identification and contextualization are made with exhibition documents and correspondence. During the project, finding aids are created that will promote the accessibility and visibility of the archive of the Basler Kunstverein so as to enable more extensive and easier research in the future.


Final Report (PDF in German)
Overview of correspondence concerning deposits (PDF in German)
Overview of the deposited artworks (PDF in German)


2023–2024 Traces of the mediation and sale of Kunsthalle Basel deposits in the archive of the Basler Kunstverein in the 1930s and 1940s. Research and Contextualization

The subject of the project are archival documents on the complex subject of Deposita at Kunsthalle Basel. The focus is on the paths of artworks once stored at Kunsthalle Basel as documented in correspondence, letters of customs free pass, and transport lists. The changes of ownership are relevant for provenance research to know the actors, determine contexts, and close gaps.


Selected background information:

Moderne deutsche Malerei aus Privatbesitz – A Brief Exhibition History

Depot in Basel – «Martha Nathan»