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Provenance research project ‘Works acquired by the “Drawings Collection” (formerly at the Nationalgalerie) during the period 1933 to 1945 and their provenances’

The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Drawings Collection has been held by the Kupferstichkabinett since 1992. It was founded as a separate department within the Nationalgalerie in 1878, following the transfer of a collection of mainly 19th century oil sketches, watercolours and drawings from what had been the Royal Kupferstichkabinett. During the National Socialist period, the Nationalgalerie acquired around 1,200 works for the Drawings Collection. While some came directly from the artists themselves or from private owners, many were acquired from art dealers and, increasingly from 1938 onwards, from auctions. When purchasing from auctions, Eberhard Hanfstaengl and Paul Ortwin Rave, the Nationalgalerie’s directors during the Nazi period, concentrated on large and famous auction houses, such as C.G. Berner in Leipzig, Karl and Faber in Munich and Hauswedell in Hamburg. Only a few isolated works on paper were acquired at Berlin auctions, namely those held by the dealers Max Perl, Rudolph Lepke, Hans W. Lange, Reinhold Puppel and Adolf Herold. Galleries, art dealers and antiquarian art shops, on the other hand, tended to patronise the local Berlin auction houses. The works acquired directly from private owners also came mainly from Berlin or from the surrounding areas of Brandenburg and Saxony. Owners were not usually well-known art collectors: ‘small owners’ could more readily afford drawings than prestigious paintings or sculptures.

Since October 2013, works in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett’s Drawings Collection have been undergoing systematic provenance research to discover whether their former owners, particularly Jewish owners, were dispossessed of them as a result of Nazi persecution. The conduct of the project is structured around a concept, specially devised by the Kupferstichkabinett for provenance research, of so-called ‘Large Scale Collections’. These are collections whose holdings are not only quantitatively enormous but which contain a relatively large number of works which cannot be identified in external sources, or at least not unambiguously. This may be because of insufficient documentation, the diverse nature of the collection (e.g., prints, books, decorative arts) and the relatively small commercial value of individual items, or because items were acquired as collections. Although works on paper usually have considerably less accompanying documentation than individual paintings or sculptures, for the above reasons, the works under investigation in the Drawings Collection are unprecedentedly well documented. Not only does the entire inventory book of the Nationalgalerie survive in the Zentralarchiv of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, but also an almost-complete record of acquisitions.  

Institution: Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Project coordination and research: Dr Hanna Strzoda
Cooperation partner: Zentralarchiv, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Funding: Stiftung Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste
Duration: October2013 to 2017 (completed)
Publications: Hanna Strzoda: Geschichten hinter den Werken – Provenienzforschung in der „Sammlung der Zeichnungen" am Kupferstichkabinett, in: Jahrbuch Preußischer Kulturbesitz 2014. Bd. L. Berlin 2015, S. 124-151; Hanna Strzoda: „Deutsche Handzeichnungen des XIX. Jahrhunderts aus verschiedenem Besitz“ – Die „Sammlung der Zeichnungen“ am Kupferstichkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin. In: Provenienzforschung in deutschen Sammlungen. Einblicke in zehn Jahre Projektförderung. (Provenire. Schriftenreihe des Deutschen Zentrums Kulturgutverluste). Berlin/Boston 2019. S.11-18.