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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

From the Vault: Rubber Stamp Portfolio, 1977

Tom Wesselmann (American, 1931–2004), Shiny Nude, from the Rubber Stamp Portfolio, 1976, published 1977. Rubber stamp print, printed in color. Image: 5 7/8 × 5 11/16 in. (14.92 × 14.45 cm); sheet: 8 × 8 in. (20.32 × 20.32 cm). Gift of Virginia M. and J. Thomas Maher III M1994.263.1. © Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
Tom Wesselmann (American, 1931–2004), Shiny Nude, from the Rubber Stamp Portfolio, 1976, published 1977. Rubber stamp print, printed in color. Image: 5 7/8 × 5 11/16 in. (14.92 × 14.45 cm); sheet: 8 × 8 in. (20.32 × 20.32 cm). Gift of Virginia M. and J. Thomas Maher III M1994.263.1. © Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

As the Collections Manager of Works on Paper, one of my duties is to facilitate the movement of the prints, drawings and photography in the collection for exhibitions, rotations, loans and viewings for researchers in the Herzfeld Study Center.

Our works on paper storage vault is organized into logical, easy-to-use groupings by size, century, nationality and then by artist’s last name (OK; it’s highly organized).

While pulling a print to go on view in the galleries, I stumbled upon a print by Carl Andre from a portfolio that I have never worked with before.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Exhibitions

Herzfeld Photography, Print, and Drawing Study Center

Herzfeld Photography, Print, and Drawing Study Center. Photo credit: John Glembin.
Herzfeld Photography, Print, and Drawing Study Center. Photo credit: John Glembin.

Did you know that nearly half of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection consists of works on paper? We have more than 15,000 rare prints, drawings, photographs, and book arts.

Works on paper cannot be shown indefinitely, because they are light-sensitive; light will cause them to fade.  Accordingly, in order to preserve them in the best condition possible, they are rotated.  A rotation is when one work is taken off view and replaced with another, usually every three to four months.

The Museum has a number of new spaces dedicated to works on paper.  The focus of these areas range from European prints and drawings (Gallery S202), to modern art from the Bradley Collection (Gallery K215), to Folk and Self-Taught art (Gallery K122). When not on view, those works on paper are stored safely in the dark.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Questions of Provenance—The Marriage Trap by Jan Victors, Part 4

Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.
Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.

With The Marriage Trap as an example, we have seen that it is an immense task to do provenance research for all paintings that were probably in Europe from 1933 through 1945! Museums, however, have accepted this ongoing project as an important part of the stewardship of their collections.

In this particular instance, at least we know that our painting was processed through the appropriate channels after World War II. It was returned to Austria for restitution to its owner; we do not know who ended up with the painting. All we can do is be transparent about the provenance and hope more information comes to light in the future.

So, now that we’re done as much as we can about the provenance with the resources easily available to us, all of the documentation goes into the file for the object.  Then, it’s time to write up the information for our collection database.  Like most museums, the Milwaukee Art Museum uses a database for keeping track of all things related to the collection.  We use one called The Museum System, or TMS, You can see a screen shot of it at the bottom of this post.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Questions of Provenance—The Marriage Trap by Jan Victors, Part 3

Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.
Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.

In the last two posts we’ve looked at the earliest known and most recent provenance of our painting The Marriage Trap.

We also know that in 1947 the painting was processed at the Munich Central Collecting Point, or MCCP.

This means that the painting was looted by the Nazis during World War II.

The MCCP was one of the offices set up by the Allied forces at the end of World War II to process the repositories of Nazi-confiscated works of art. These stashes were hidden in Germany and Austria. Managed by the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Service (MFA&A) of the military, they were staffed by soldiers and art historians that became known as the Monuments Men. Collecting points were also set up in Marburg, Wiesbaden, and Offenbach. The one in Munich, however, was the largest. The offices there handled a wide variety of material such as painting, sculpture, textiles, and metalwork.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Questions of Provenance—The Marriage Trap by Jan Victors, Part 2

This post is part of a series that that will highlight some of the interesting provenance cases in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Collection. 

Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.
Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.

Last time we looked at The Marriage Trap’s provenance and attribution just before and since its acquisition by the Milwaukee Art Museum. That’s usually the easiest part.

In this post, we’ll see how piecing together the ownership of a painting requires pulling information from a number of sources, thinking critically about what we find, and then sometimes making an educated guess (noted as such, of course).