Acquisitions and Provenance Policy

The Museum acquires works of art by purchase, gift, and bequest. The Museum holds all acquisitions to the same standards of quality, condition, authenticity, provenance, and utility for display and research.

For All Acquisitions

All acquisitions shall be reviewed and approved by the Collections Committee upon the recommendation of the Director, the Director of Collections, and curatorial staff. Staff recommendations shall include a description of the work and its significance; assessment of its condition, authenticity, and provenance; relevance to collecting strategy and existing holdings; and an assessment of the impact and costs of storage and long-term maintenance. In the case of purchases, staff shall supply justification for the price and the source of funding; in the case of gifts and bequests, staff will provide brief information about the donor and the donor’s relationship to the MFA.

The Museum generally does not accept restrictions or conditions on gifts of art. Any exceptions, including but not limited to restrictions related to display, lending, or deaccessioning, must be approved by the Committee. If the Director or Chair of the Committee wish to bring the restrictions to the full Board of Trustees for consideration, they are at liberty to do so.


The Committee may delegate authority to the Director and the Director of Collections to approve acquisitions under specific circumstances, and all such decisions shall be reported to the Committee.

The Director of Collections has the authority to approve acquisitions valued at or under $50,000 on behalf of the Director. The Director has authority to approve acquisitions valued at or under $100,000 on behalf of the Committee. The Committee will be informed of all such decisions. Acquisitions above $100,000 require Committee approval.

When time does not permit the advance approval of acquisitions above $100,000 at one of the Committee’s regular meetings, a quorum of the Committee (as defined in the Museum’s by-laws) has the authority to proceed by holding a telephonic meeting with a majority of those participating approving the vote. If a telephonic meeting is not possible, 100% of the voting members would be needed to approve a vote by email. Such acquisitions will be presented at a subsequent meeting.

During each calendar year, the Director and Director of Collections have the authority to accept gifts valued above $100,000 during the period between the last meeting of the Collections Committee and December 31. Gifts accepted during this period will be known as “Year-End Gifts” and will be subject to the same standards of quality, strategic importance, condition, and provenance as all other acquisitions. Year-End Gifts shall be reported to the Collections Committee on or before the last working day of the calendar year, and presented at the Committee’s first meeting of the next calendar year.

Credit Lines

All acquisitions will have credit lines that reflect accurately the nature of the transaction (purchase, gift, bequest, etc.); exceptions will require approval by the Director of Collections. A credit line for a gift may be anonymous, or may be made in honor or in memory of another party, but the credit line shall not misrepresent the actual donor or the history of ownership of the work.


The Museum will attempt to obtain the broadest possible rights, including copyright where applicable. If copyright is retained by the artist or donor, the Museum will seek permission for appropriate uses, including nonexclusive right of reproduction.

For Purchases

The Museum deals to the best of its knowledge with reputable vendors and requires all sellers to sign a Museum Warranty, which outlines the terms and conditions of the sale.

It is understood that works of art bought from auction houses and on-line auctions are sold “as is” and are subject to the particular Terms and Conditions of Sale established by the individual auction houses and on-line entities. The Museum does not therefore require auction houses and on-line entities to sign a Museum Warranty.

Purchases from Board Members

Purchases or partial purchases from Board members will be conducted in a manner that creates neither a conflict of interest with the Museum, nor the appearance of a conflict. Specific binding guidelines are set out in the “Ethical Guidelines for Trustees and Advisors.”

For Gifts and Bequests

Gifts will be accompanied by a Deed of Gift and/or other agreement, which legally transfers ownership of the work of art from the donor to the Museum.

Bequests will be accompanied by a copy of the relevant portion of the will and such other probate documentation as may be required by legal counsel.


Staff may not provide donors with appraisals for works of art, and the Museum shall not make arrangements for a donor’s appraisal or pay for the appraisal. Under current IRS guidelines, the Museum cannot act as a qualified appraiser because of the inherent conflict with its role as a recipient of donations. When recommending qualified appraisers, staff will always provide more than one name. Upon request, the Museum should provide the appraiser with reasonable access to the work of art, images of the work, and basic cataloguing information. Museum staff shall not provide opinions on condition or quality for the purpose of appraisal so as avoid influencing the valuation of the work.


Gifts and bequests may be accepted as Apparatus, and sold without being accessioned or deaccessioned, with prior written agreement of the donor or notification to the estate. Such Apparatus will be identified as “Sold by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for the benefit of the collection,” and the funds realized will be restricted to the purchase of works of art unless otherwise specified by the donor. The credit line for works of art purchased with the proceeds will include credit to the donor.

Promised Gifts

The Museum accepts irrevocable pledges of works of art, known as “Promised Gifts,” which will be subject to the same standards of quality, strategic importance, condition, and provenance as all other acquisitions. The Collections Committee shall review and approve Promised Gifts upon the recommendation of the Director, the Director of Collections, and curatorial staff. The Committee shall vote to accept all Promised Gifts at the time of the pledge, and vote again to accept the works themselves when the promise is fulfilled.


The Museum believes that the interests of the public are served by collecting the artistic achievements of all civilizations according to the highest standards of ethical and professional practice, in accordance with all applicable law, and in such a way that provides no direct and material incentive to looting or theft. To that end, provenance will be taken into account in every acquisition decision.

The Museum will not acquire any work of art known to have been stolen or illegally appropriated (without subsequent restitution), exported from its country of origin (or any other country in which it was subsequently owned) in violation of such country’s laws at the time of its export, or imported into the United States in violation of U.S. law at the time of its importation.

The Museum will thoroughly research the provenance of all proposed acquisitions to ensure that it can acquire valid title. As part of this process the Museum will:

  • make a rigorous effort to obtain all available information and accurate written documentation about the ownership history of the object, as well as import and export documentation;
  • undertake research to determine whether any ownership claims to the object are known;
  • document all research efforts by completing a provenance questionnaire (unless such a questionnaire is waived by the Director of Collections).

In addition, these specific practices will be followed:

For Nazi-Era Provenance

Following the Report of the AAMD Task Force on the Spoliation of Art During the Nazi/World War II Era (1933–1945) (dated June 4, 1998 and April 30, 2001) and the AAM Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era (dated November 1999 and April 2001), the Museum will, as part of the standard research on each acquisition, ask sellers, donors, and estate executors to provide as much information as possible with regard to the Nazi era. Where Nazi-era provenance is incomplete or uncertain, the museum will consult available records as well as publications and databases that track illegally appropriated art. In the absence of evidence of illegal appropriation, the work is presumed not to have been illegally appropriated and the acquisition may proceed. The Museum will not acquire a work of art if there is evidence of illegal appropriation without subsequent restitution or other satisfactory resolution of title.

For Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art

Following the AAMD Report on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art (dated June 4, 2008), the Museum recognizes the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (dated November 17, 1970) as providing the most pertinent threshold for the application of more rigorous standards to the acquisition of archaeological materials and ancient art. The Museum will therefore not normally acquire archaeological materials and ancient art unless research substantiates that the work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before November 17, 1970, or was legally exported from its country of probable modern discovery on or after November 17, 1970.

The Museum will retain its right to exercise institutional responsibility to make informed and reasonable judgments about the appropriateness of acquiring works of art.

In order to ensure transparency and aid potential claimants, all accessioned objects will be posted on the Museum’s website as quickly as is practical, and on any other applicable databases. Inquiries regarding potential claims on objects in the collection will be directed immediately to the Director of Collections, who will ensure thorough research and a prompt response to each inquiry.

Ethical Standards for Collecting by Staff, Trustees, and Advisors

The Museum recognizes that its employees and officers may collect works of art for their own personal enjoyment, yet all such collecting must be conducted in a manner that creates neither a conflict of interest with the Museum, nor the appearance of a conflict. Specific binding guidelines are set out in “Staff Guidelines for Professional Practice,” “Ethical Guidelines for Trustees and Advisors,” as well as other relevant documents provided to Board members such as Conflict of Interest Forms or Committee Confidentiality Forms.