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Collecting and Provenance Research: Introduction

Essential Texts

About this guide

This research guide is meant to help researchers who are new to provenance research and to reinforce the knowledge of those well-versed in the twisting paths and vagaries inherent in tracing a work of art’s record of ownership.

What does provenance mean?

Derived from the French word provenir, which means "to come from," provenance is the history of ownership of a work of art from the time of its creation by the artist to the present day. In a broader sense, the provenance of a work of art is also documentation of changing artistic tastes and collecting priorities—for both individuals and institutions, and an indicator of economic and market conditions. Provenance research sheds light on the historical, social, and economic context in which a work of art was created and collected, as well as on the history of taste.

An ideal provenance history would provide a documentary record of owners’ names; dates of ownership, and means of transference, or sale through a dealer or auction; and locations where the work was kept, from the time of its creation until the present day. Provenance research has long been a staple of curators’ work in museums but it is increasingly becoming important and essential to all art historians.

Art Appraisals

Yale University policy prohibits librarians and curators from providing financial appraisals.

Where can I get an item appraised?

Contacts for local professionally certified appraisers can be found through the following organizations:

The Appraisers Association of America (212.889.5404 x11)

The American Society of Appraisers (800.272.8258)

The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (212.944.8291)


Appraisals Research Guide -- The Getty Research Institute



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