Provenance research in the context of the Art Restitution Act

Created in 1998, the Art Restitution Act (BGBl. I, 181/1998, amendment BGBl. I, 117/2009) is the legal basis for provenance research at the NHM. The Act provides a legal duty for Austria’s federal museums and federal collections to investigate the works of art and cultural interest they hold to determine if they were seized from their owners during the Nazi era through persecution. The Commission for Provenance Research, part of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Arts, Culture, Civil Service and Sport, is responsible for systematically investigating this issue. The NHM’s provenance researchers work on its behalf. The results of these investigations are then used by the Austrian Art Restitution Advisory Board to make recommendations to the minister responsible regarding whether or not objects should be restituted. If it is decided that an object should indeed be restituted, further research is carried out to determine the owners of the objects or their legal successors. They are then contacted in order to begin the process of returning the objects. Decisions made by the Art Restitution Advisory Board are published on the website of the Commission for Provenance Research. Decisions concerning the NHM can also be found here.

The NHM’s provenance research team is responsible for carrying out the research that forms the basis for decisions made by the Art Restitution Advisory Board. It examines the provenance of objects which entered the museum's collection after 1933. Provenance in this context refers to the ownership of a museum object. The provenance researchers draw on the NHM’s own collection of historical documents as well as national and international archives and libraries, genealogical databases, and other online sources. Moreover, the museum’s provenance research team also works closely with other research institutions both in Austria and abroad.

NHM Vienna, Thomas Mayer: © NHM Vienna, Thomas Mayer
© NHM Vienna, Thomas Mayer