30 August 2011

Teaching provenance research at the Free University of Berlin

Free University, Berlin
Source: Wikipedia
Last April, the Free University of Berlin announced that it had initiated the first academic program in Germany on cultural plunder. Classes would be taught at the undergraduate level towards completion of a Bachelors of Art. However, no details were forthcoming about the actual nature of the program, the number of classes offered, the length of the program, the inter-disciplinary nature of the curriculum, and the scope of the content being offered to students.

As it turns out, the program itself, new as it is, is far from being that ambitious. In fact, it is a provenance research program. The novelty of teaching provenance research in an undergraduate setting is duly noted, but the fanfare surrounding the creation of the program might have been a bit over the top.

Nevertheless, let’s take a closer look at what is actually being taught and by whom. The program addresses a number of broad themes: the historical background, the impact of National Socialist cultural policy; reparations and compensation (hopefully, restitution figures here as well); case studies of provenance research conducted for auction houses, museums, private collections and claimants; Art and the Law; Sources and Documentation. Students are expected to produce research papers and present their findings at the end of the course.

There is one lecture per week. A different specialist presents a specific topic at each lecture. The program is broken down into two segments; coursework in the first semester and independent archival research in the second semester.

Although the Third Reich orchestrated institutional acts of cultural plunder in every country that it occupied, the historical locus of the program remains Nazi Germany with some considerations given to collections stolen in other parts of Europe and to the methods of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR).

As to the types of looted cultural objects being covered in the case studies, emphasis, as usual, is on paintings and works on paper, but other categories are also being addressed like furniture, accessories, and Judaica.



Subsequent to the program, the Free University of Berlin has organized three month internships for the students with institutions in Berlin, Leipzig and London. The lecture “Cultural and museum policies and the art market during the Nazi era”  was taught by Meike Hoffmann together with Andreas Hüneke. Together with Uwe Hartmann, she also taught the lecture “Galleries, private collections, dealers and collectors (Aryanization, confiscation and duress sales)” while visiting the exhibition “Gute Geschäfte. Kunsthandel in Berlin 1933-45 (A Good Business: The Art Trade in Berlin 1933-45)” which was on display at the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin, 10 April-31 July 2011.

The following is a summary of the courses offered and a brief description:

Historical Background

"Looting during the Napoleonic wars and gaps in the historical record prior to the 20th century" Uwe Hartmann (AfP)

Presentation topics:
  • The effect of secularization (1803) on the art trade and the development of private and public collections.
  • Napoleon’s donations
"Cultural and museum policies and the art market during the Nazi era" Andreas Hüneke (Degenerate Art Research Centre, FU Berlin)

Presentation topics:
  • The law to re-establish the civil service (7.04.1933) and its impact on museum directors.
  • Auction houses and galleries during the Third Reich
  • Consequences of Nazi Cultural Policy
"'Degenerate Art' – seizure, confiscation and exploitation of modern art" Andreas Hüneke and Meike Hoffmann (Degenerate Art Research Centre, FU Berlin)

Presentation topics:
  • Confiscation of “degenerate art” at the museum of fine arts and applied arts in Halle in 1937.
  • The exploitation of “degenerate art” through the art dealer Bernhard A. Böhmer.
"Galleries, private collections, dealers and collectors (Aryanization, confiscation and duress sales)" Uwe Hartmann (AfP)

Presentation topics:
"Looted art and the art trade in occupied territory" Dr. Stephanie Tasch (Christie's)

Presentation topics:
Reparations and Compensation

"Public collections in Germany dealing with the burdened inheritance from1945 to the present (CCP – TVK – BADV)" Dr. Angelika Enderlein (BADV)

Presentation topic:
"Provenance research as a political task and moral responsibility (“Washington Principles”, “Joint declaration”, current debates)" Peter Müller (BKM - Federal Government for Culture and Media)

Presentation topics:

"Sumpflegende", Paul Klee
Source: Bloomberg
Case Studies

"Provenance research in the art trade" Isabel von Klitzing (Sotheby’s)

Presentation topics:
"Provenance research at the Berlin State Museums" Dr. Jörn Grabowski, Dr. Petra Winter (ZA SMB - Central Archive of the Berlin State Museums)

Presentation topics:
"Der Watzmann", Caspar David Friedrich
Source: Amazon.com
  • Caspar David Friedrich „Der Watzmann“ (1824/25). Acquired by the National Gallery in 1937 from Martin Brunn (Berlin)
  • Johann Erdmann Hummel „Bildnis Frau Luise Mila“ (around 1815). Acquired by the National Gallery from a private collection in 1937
"Provenance research for collectors or claimants" Nina Senger (Jacques Goudstikker collection)


Jacques Goudstikker
Source: Jüdisches Museum, Berlin
Presentation topics:
  • Hermann Göring and the confiscation of the Goudstikker collection
  • Just and Fair Solutions: Restitution of confiscated Jewish collections in Holland using the example of the Goudstikker collection
Art & Law

"Results of provenance research as a basis for court decisions or out-of-court settlements" Carola Thielecke (HV SPK)

Sources & Documentation

"Archival material, databases and further electronic resources in use for provenance research" Dr. Andrea Baresel-Brand (Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg) 


According to the 13 April 2011 press release accouncing the program, for more information, please contact:
Dr. Meike Hoffman
Freie Universität Berlin, Kunsthistoisches Institut, Forschungsstelle Entartete Kunst
Telefon: 030 / 838-54523
E-Mail: meikeh@zedat.fu-berlin.de