Provenance Research

The provenance of a work of art is its history of ownership, from the time of its creation to the present. The study of provenance is a traditional part of art historical research, as an object’s chain of ownership can inform a scholarly understanding of the work of art itself: its function, condition, and its place in the history of taste and collecting.

The study of provenance is also critical for legal and ethical reasons. Research into the history of an object may uncover broken chains of ownership caused by theft and looting in the past. Gaps in the provenance of a work of art are normal, but if evidence is found of a theft or other illegal transaction, the MFA seeks to redress past losses. The Museum has resolved a number of ownership claims for works of art in the collection. Information on these resolutions, as well as the MFA’s collection policies and practices, and the results of ongoing provenance research, are provided on these pages.

If you have provenance-related inquiries or information, please contact

The results of research undertaken by the MFA on the provenance of its collection of European art during the years of the National Socialist regime and World War II, 1933 to 1945

A list of ownership resolutions at the MFA since the late 1990s

The MFA’s procedures and policies relating to acquisitions and provenance

Information on the research the MFA has conducted on its antiquities, and the ownership resolutions reached between the Museum and foreign nations for illicit cultural property

Information on colonial-era provenance research