Jul 16, 2020

How to Track the Falsification of Provenance?

False provenance is a feature of Nazi looted art. How to track multiple versions of provenance texts over time and identify, classify and analyse "errors"? 

We begin by listing some of the most frequently observed "errors".

Types of "errors" observed in provenance texts of Nazi looted art, forced sales and duress sales:

Provenance Error TypeDescription
NameOmittedreal owner name omitted
NameAddedfake owner name inserted
WrongDateincorrect date
WrongPlaceincorrect place
WrongSellerincorrect identification of seller
WrongBuyerincorrection identification of buyer
WrongDealerincorrect identification of the dealer or intermediary
WrongTransactionincorrect representation of the nature of the transaction
WrongStoryincorrect represention of the sequence of events
NameMispelledmispelled name

Who authored and published the errors? Who financed the research and publication? When? In what context? These elements can be described in the metadata of the provenance text.

Provenance text metadata suggestions

Provenance Text MetadataDescription
PublisherName and URI of the person or organisation that published the provenance text
Type of publicationbook, article, catalogue raisonné, website, other
PublicationTitle, identifier
AuthorName and identifier of the individual who wrote the provenance (or if this is not available, the insitution)
PayerName and identifier of whoever ordered or paid for the writing of the provenance
Date of publicationDate the version was published
Versiona number indication the version of the provenance
URL to Provenance TextIf published online, the url 
Archived URLURL to the provenance version on a specific date (important because online provenance changes)
Archive dateDate of the archived URL
Artwork the provenance describesTitle and identifiers for the artwork described (url, accession number)
Noteworthycircumstancessignificant events that may help explain the particularities of the version
Known to contain errorsY/N (if yes, refer to error type)

A look at sources

Provenances cite source documents. Who wrote the sources cited? Who published them, when - and why? What new information did they introduce? Have any problems of accuracy already been identified in the source document?
One cannot assess the reliability of a provenance text without verifying the reliability of the sources it cites.

Provenance Source Cited Metadata Suggestions

Provenance Source MetadataDescription
Date source cited was publishedOriginal publication date of the source cited
Author of source citedAuthor of the source cited.
Publisher of source citedName and ID of the publisher of the source cited.
Reliability of source citedHave any false provenances been found in the source cited?
New information introduced by source citedDid the source cited introduce a new name, date, place, explanation? Which?
First citation of source citedName and ID of the first publication to cite the source cited 
Payer of source citedName and ID of the person or organization that financed the publication of the source cited
Uncertainty of source citedDoes the footnote refering to the source cited contain a ? or words like probably, likely, possibly indicating uncertainty or speculation?
Red Flag on Author or Publisher?Y/N Is the author, publisher or payer of the source publication on the ALIU Red Flag list of Names from 1946?
Holocaust Claim?Y/N Does the name of the author, publisher or payer appear in any legal documents connected to a Holocaust art claim?

What has already been done in tracking provenance errors? How can these be coded? Provenance errors, like potato chips, rarely stop at just one.
To be continued....

photo by Evan-Amos / Public domain

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