Provenance Research

Provenance Research

Since 2004 the Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg (SPSG) has investigated the inventory of its own collections in cases of unlawful possession. Diverging acquisition backgrounds can indicate an object of suspect provenance. The following periods and circumstances surrounding cultural assets are under particular scrutiny:

  • 1933–45: during the National Socialist dictatorship, when property was confiscated from rightful owners (National Socialist-looted art and assets brought into exile by their original owners)
  • 1945–46: works expropriated in the name of “palace recoveries” (under the land reform in the German zones under Soviet Occupation (SBZ)) and transferred to the palace administration in Potsdam
  • Post-World War II: works taken from museums within the SBZ by the Red Army and brought to the Soviet Union. Although given back to the government of the former German Democratic Republic during an extended period of restitution from 1955–58, some of these works were mistakenly returned to the wrong museums, including the Potsdam palace administration
  • 1949–89 in the GDR: confiscation of private property by the state (GDR injustices).

Thanks to long-standing, extensive research, the provenance history of many paintings, sculptures, pieces of furniture and metal objects could be clarified and more than 150 objects have been returned to their rightful owners.

Current Research on Looted Art under National Socialism

An ongoing research project that began in April 2015 examines painting purchases by the West Berlin branch of the Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten (the former state palaces and gardens administration) involving 400 works of art that have entered the SPSG’s present-day collection since the 1950s. By extensively researching available archival and documentary sources, as well as by examining stamps, stickers and other labels on the backs of paintings, provenance references are investigated so that circumstances surrounding the ownership of a painting may be reconstructed. The long-term goal is to completely clarify questions surrounding the origin of the works, to communicate these research results to the public as transparently as possible, and to find fair and just solutions in accordance with the “Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art” and the German “Common Statement (Gemeinsame Erklärung)” in cases of National Socialist-looted art.


Dr. Ulrike Schmiegelt-RietigSPSG | Department Palaces and CollectionsProvenance research
Postfach 60 14 62
14414  Potsdam
Fax: +49 (0)331.96 94-104