Wayfaring Art

“Works of art go wayfaring. That has always been their destiny and will never change.” Almost a century ago in 1926, the Berlin art critic Adolph Donath (1876 – 1937) began his description of provenance research with this profound observation.

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Usually the scale of this research is hidden from the gaze of visitors to museums. Today it tends to be conducted by collections of modern art (in its narrower sense) in an effort to identify works that were stolen or extracted under duress from Jewish victims of the Nazi regime. The focus here is on who owned the painting, sculpture or drawing before 1945 and what happened to it in the years from 1933.

Exhibitions rarely provide the space to trace the often labyrinthine journey each work has taken in its past. Just how kaleidoscopic these stories can be is illustrated by the exhibition “Provenances: Wayfaring Art”, taking as an example a self-portrait of Max Liebermann (1847 – 1935) painted in 1912. In a hanging that recreates a salon setting, the show features works from the Berlinische Galerie collection which have rarely, if ever, been displayed in the past.

The selection is an introduction to research currently underway into the provenance of our holdings. Digital media present the latest findings but also flag up gaps in our existing knowledge. One thing is clear: Every work has gone wayfaring, and what we can discover about its journey broadens our perception of the art.

Artists (selected): Ima Breusing (1886 – 1968), Lovis Corinth (1858 – 1925), Jacoba van Heemskerck (1876 – 1923), Ludwig von Hofmann (1861 – 1945), Martel Schwichtenberg (1896 – 1945), Felix Nussbaum (1904 – 1944)

The exhibition has been supported by the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung.

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