conservaion student assessing the back of a canvas

Provenance Research

In accordance with the Statement of Principles adopted by the National Museum Directors’ Conference (NMDC) in November 1998 and the statement issued by the Museums and Galleries Commission in April 1999, The Courtauld Gallery has undertaken work to examine the provenance of its collections with regard to the spoliation of works of art during the Holocaust and World War II period.

The Courtauld Gallery

The Courtauld Gallery
Somerset House

Contact for all enquiries about Holocaust era or WWII Spoliation:
Dr Alexandra Gerstein
Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts

General description of the Collection

The Courtauld Gallery holds approximately 550 paintings, 7000 drawings, 26,000 prints and 550 works of sculpture and decorative art from the medieval to the modern period. The Courtauld Gallery is designated in respect of all its collections. The collection held by The Courtauld Gallery is owned by The Samuel Courtauld Trust.

Overall Plans - Broken Down by Area

The Courtauld Gallery’s Collections Development Policy requires due diligence to be undertaken for each new acquisition. Since 2011 all curators and the Head of the Gallery must complete an Acquisition Report Form for each acquisition into the collection. All curators are also responsible for researching acquisition records of works in their area from 1933 onwards. The Courtauld Gallery’s Documentation Plan for 2014-17 has as one of its goals the significant improvement of the quality of information in the object records on its Collections Database. With the appointment of a dedicated Drawings Cataloguer in January 2016, we are now able to address areas of the collection that have not been fully researched in terms of Nazi-era provenance. The appointment will also enable The Courtauld Gallery to review those areas of the drawings collection that have already been published, and potentially to add significantly to the provenance information in particular.

A. Areas considered for the purposes of these plans
All areas of the collection that contain works potentially acquired by the relevant donor or testator from 1933 onward.

B. Areas excluded and why
– All works of art acquired by The Courtauld Gallery before 1933 or which we secure were acquired by the donor to the collection before 1933.
– All works of art which we secure have an exclusively British provenance.

C. Target areas: prioritisation
– The extensive collection of drawings from the bequest of Robert Witt in 1952. There are 3,577 drawings in the Witt Bequest, principally Old Master works.
– The collection of approximately 300 drawings acquired through the Witt Fund from 1952 to 1978.
– The collection of approximately 50 British watercolours and drawings from the Dorothy Scharf Bequest of 2007.
– Rare Books and Manuscripts from the Princes Gate Bequest in 1978 (approximately 27 works)
– Works of art on long-term loan prior to the implementation of The Courtauld Gallery’s Loans Policy in 2009 (about 50 works).

D. Areas considered low priority
The collection of some 26,000 prints, the majority of which are low-value reproductive prints (transferred from the Courtauld Institute of Art’s Witt Library). Included in this number are also a few smaller individual collections of original prints, such as the Princes Gate Bequest of 1978 and the Tony Halliday Bequest of 2006. However, as prints are multiples, it is impossible to verify previous ownership of a particular impression from a written description without specific physical evidence.

Research Carried Out (or being carried out) in Target Areas

Provenance research has been carried out and published online on the Collections Trust pages for:
– the paintings collection (Princes Gate and Lee Bequests)
– the sculpture and decorative arts collections (Lee Bequest)
– select areas of the drawings collection (Princes Gate; John Witt and Anthony Blunt Bequests).

The Gallery has also sought where possible to progress research into works already published online on the Collections Trust’s website, either by closing the gaps in information in the Courtauld’s lists of works with incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45 or by deleting listings, if a work can be proven to have an unproblematic chain of ownership.

Research is mainly desk-based and restricted to readily available sources, including published catalogues, acquisition records and material collected in individual object files.

Information Regarding Progress in the Target Areas

– At the date of this report, we are carrying out a systematic survey of the 7000 drawings in The Courtauld Gallery’s collection.
– Research has already been carried out on drawings of the Spanish school from the Robert Witt Bequest (uploaded to the Collections Trust in March 2016) and a group of 26 drawings by Leonard Bramer to be uploaded shortly.
– Research into the provenance of drawings of the Flemish School is underway in preparation for a scholarly catalogue of this part of the collection.

From January 2016 The Courtauld Gallery appointed a full-time Drawings Cataloguer to update, edit and verify records including provenance, exhibition history and literature references for every drawing in the collection. This information is also being uploaded directly to the Gallery’s collections management system and at the end of the three-year position, it will be published on The Courtauld Gallery’s website.

Priority has been given to the drawings from the bequest of Robert Witt (1952) and those acquired through the Witt Fund (1952-1978). There are 1,453 British school drawings in the Robert Witt Bequest. So far the cataloguer has reviewed 600 of those, and 63 (or 10.5%) are excluded from the provenance lists on the grounds that they were either acquired directly from the artist or his estate or were definitely acquired before 1933. Most of the other drawings acquired since 1933 have no recorded owner beyond the vendor from whom Sir Robert Witt purchased them. Research, including in archives, is ongoing to establish any further provenance in these areas.

For the past year, provenance research has also been undertaken by Print Room Assistants, who have had to balance this research with their other duties in the Prints & Drawings Room.

Information on Making General Enquiries

A. Contact for all enquiries about Holocaust era or WWII Spoliation
Dr Alexandra Gerstein
Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts
Tel: 020 7848 1645

B. Sources of information and means of access
An illustrated database of most of the collection of The Courtauld Gallery is available via the Art & Architecture link on the Courtauld Institute of Art website ( Catalogues with provenance information exist for parts of the collection (e.g. Spanish Drawings; Turner watercolours). Further information on provenance is held in the Collections Management Database and in individual object files. Public enquiries may be communicated by email either directly with the curators responsible for those areas or with the contact person listed above.

C. How to make general enquiries
Initial enquiries may be made in writing, by telephone or email.

D. Press
Emily Butcher
Marketing and Communications Manager, The Courtauld Gallery
E. Address
The Courtauld Gallery
Somerset House

F. Website

To search The Courtauld Gallery’s Lists of Works with Gaps in their Provenance, see: