Provenance is NOT Authentication

And this is proven by lists submitted by Russian museums for the Royal Academy exhibition in London, REVOLUTION (Feb-April 2017; ). Of 107 works (not including photographic prints or coupons), the ownership of a work between its date of execution and acquisition by a museum is incomplete in 43 provenances and complete in 64 cases.

If one believes internet and media gossip that pretends that complete provenance is necessary to prove absolute authenticity, then the conclusion would be that over 40% of

works belonging to Russian museums would be of dubious authenticity. There is no reason to think that this is the case, however. So the fallacious claim casts uncertainty on genuine museum holdings and spreads nasty rumours.

Provenance is a record of ownership, and it is this ownership that may be incomplete due to circumstances so poignant in Russia from the First World War to the end of the Second World War. Between 1914 and 1945 there was not only world war but revolution and civil war, the imposition of a totalitarian society and the complete upheaval and restructuring of social institutions. Millions died, emigrated, were displaced.

Russian Avant-Garde art was subject to loss, with the whereabouts of works obscured and unrecorded. So tracing owners is a task as difficult for individual works as for those held by the Russian museums themselves – by their own admission, sometimes impossible. As they state: “Note that this object has an incomplete provenance for the years 1933-1945. Extensive research has been carried out in order to fill the gaps, but no further information has been found.”

And due to Stalin’s decrees against modernist trends, these spread dates can be extended from 1932 to the fall of the Soviet regime in 1991 when art that had been illegal suddenly became the pride of Russian museums and sought after by collectors. This had been an art deprived of ownership, languishing in abandoned warehouses, and it then was acquired by new owners who saved it after 60 years in obscurity.

As with works in Russian museums, there may be gaps in ownership, but since the authenticity of works is independent of owners, of provenance, this poses no particular problem. The work exists, so its authenticity is to be found within itself by thorough investigation and expert analyses by scientists and art historians.

Admin. 6 March 2017



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