The National Gallery of Australia has announced an independent review into its Asian Art Collection to address issues of provenance.
From the NGA
The Asian art collection holds approximately 5,000 items. A preliminary internal assessment has identified 54 significant South Asian works which are now public on its website, for which further information and documentation is sought. None of these works is subject to claim.
Through the initiatives announced today, the NGA will pursue thorough and detailed research into the provenance of its Asian collection working with appropriate experts and authorities. The Gallery will also work with relevant donors. It is expected that the detailed research of this kind will take several years to complete.
‘The NGA acknowledges that there are works in the collection whose provenance and legal status need a renewed level of scrutiny,’ said NGA Director, Gerard Vaughan. ‘The situation is regrettable, however, we are now addressing these issues in a proactive and open manner.’
In the first phase of the provenance project, the website comprises 54 significant works from South Asia referred to above. These are now publicly available on the NGA website and accessible on the homepage. Additional information and works will be added to the website as the research team reviews documentation.
The appointment of the independent reviewer will be announced in the New Year.
You can view the works in question on the NGA website here.
The Art Gallery of South Australia has also recently embarked on a new provenance research project with a number of works from the European and Asian collections identified as having significant provenance gaps.
The Art Gallery of South Australia undertakes ongoing research to establish the history of ownership, or provenance, of works of art in its collection. This research helps to identify the social, historical and economic context in which a work of art was created and collected, as well the work’s authenticity.
Ideally, every time a work of art changes ownership, the information relating to the change (that is, new owner, sale price, new location etc.) would be recorded and would remain linked to the work; however, for many reasons this does not always occur, and earlier information is not always available or recoverable (particularly for works of art pre-dating the nineteenth century and since the advent of the modern art market). Records of sale and other historical documents, such as inventories, frequently do not survive or they lack sufficient descriptive detail. Many private collectors buy and sell works anonymously through third parties, such as dealers or auction houses, which may or may not disclose the owner’s identity. If a dealer or auction house no longer operates, records, if not lost or destroyed, may only be partially preserved. All these factors contribute to the gaps that may occur in a work of art’s provenance.
It is important to note that an incomplete provenance does not indicate that a work was looted or stolen, only that its complete ownership history cannot be reconstructed today.
The two lists of works at the Art Gallery of South Australia can be found here. The gallery has stated that it welcomes any information that people may have about the gaps in the provenance of these works.