COMMISSION FOR PROVENANCE RESEARCH. ESTABLISHMENT AND BASIC PRINCIPLES
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In the years following the Second World War the Republic of Austria passed seven restitution laws, two Artistic and Cultural Assets Settlement Laws and the amendment to the Second Artistic and Cultural Assets Settlement Law [2. Kunst- und Kulturgutbereinigungsgesetz]. Although a large number of artworks were returned to their former owners or legal heirs, the Republic in the late 1960s brought together paintings, watercolors, drawings and books whose “legal fate was unknown” in a depot of the Federal Monuments Office in Mauerbach near Vienna. It was believed that with the Mauerbach Law and the auction by Christie’s in 1996 of “ownerless” cultural objects, given to the Bundesverband der Israelitischen Kultusgemeinden Österreichs [Federal Association of Jewish Communities of Austria], solved the problem of confiscated art.In New York, in January 1998 the confiscation of two Schiele pictures from the Leopold collection (Portrait of Wally and Dead City III) reopened a new debate about art objects owned by museums that had been “aryanised” or confiscated.As a reaction to this “looted art” debate, the former Federal Minister, Elisabeth Gehrer established the Commission for Provenance Research in museums and collections in March 1998. The Art Restitution Law was adopted in December 1998 and modified and amended in 2009. The Commission for Provenance Research was the first state institution set up in Europe to systematically review all of the art and cultural objects in federal collections that had been acquired between 1938 (1933 in the amended version of the law) and 1945.Researchers at the museums extended the period of investigation, for the time after the war, in some cases even into the 1960s. The special feature of the work performed by the Commission is that there is no need for an application on the part of the injured party and there are no time limits. The mandate covered the Albertina, Österreichische Galerie, Technical Museum, Museum of Ethnology, Natural History Museum, Museum of Applied Art/Contemporary Art (MAK), Museum of Art History, National Library, Bundesmobilienverwaltung, Pathologicanatomical Collection in The Fools Tower – MNH, Museum of Modern Art/Foundation Ludwig. The archives under the responsibility of the Ministry were to be made accessible for research purposes to the Commision. The Office of the Commission for Provenance Research, as the coordination centre for the state provenance research, is located in the premises of the Austrian Bundesdenkmalamt (Federal Monuments Office) with headquarters in the Vienna Hoĩurg. The specific Austrian implementation legislation – which remained in force during the Nazi era – had assigned a central role to the monuments office in dealing with looted art. After the war, this authority’s files represented a particularly important source for research intorestitution matters. The first system tic investigation of the archive began in the early 1990s.In accordance with the legal mandate, the Commission produces statements of facts or “dossiers” on the individual cases, on the basis of which the Committee makes an assessment and gives a recommendation to the head of the relevant body (today: Ministry of Education, Culture and Art) as to whether the artistic or cultural assets in question should be restituted or not. The pending cases and results of the meetings are notified in advance on the Commission for Provenance Research website at www.proveniezforschung.gv.at. The reconstruction of the collections and the ensuing research on provenance demands a worldwide exchange of information with both private owners (including their legal heirs) as well as public and private institutions. The members of the Commission are financed by the Federal Ministry of Education, Culture and Art, and information and the associated research in the relevant files is free for requesting parties.On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Commission for Provenance Research in 2008 the management decided to launch a new series to publish the results of its research. The fourth volume of this series came out in 2013.In the future the Commission for Provenance Research will participate in projects and international cooperation on the basis of the Washington Principles.
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