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On the current state of the discussion of the provenance of Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting”

In 1940, Jan Vermeer’s „The Art of Painting“ was acquired for the planned „Führermuseum“ in Linz. In the winter of 1943/44 the painting was moved to a salt-mine at Bad Aussee. In the spring of 1945 it was taken – together with other artworks destined for the planned museum in Linz – to the Central Collecting Point at Munich. In November 1945 the American military government handed over the painting to the Austrian government, who deposited it in the KHM. In late 1958/early 1959 the painting was inventoried (it received the inventory number 9128) and incorporated into the Picture Gallery of the KHM. After 1945, the painting was the object of several requests to recover it, all of which were denied in court. The last of these also ended with a negative verdict from the Verwaltungsgerichtshof (Austrian Administrative Court) in 1960.

In September 2008, heirs of Jaromir Czernin suggested the return of Vermeer’s „The Art of Painting“ under the provisions of the 1998 Kunstrückgabegesetz (Austrian Law on the Restitution of Art). At present, Dr. Susanne Hehenberger and Dr. Monika Löscher are researching the painting’s provenance. It is the aim of the Kommission für Provenienzforschung (Commission for Provenance Research) to assemble a complete documentation of all the objects held by Austrian federal museums and collections with the Kunstrückgabegesetz in mind. For this the commission’s researchers will analyse all accessible and available sources. Considering the wealth of material already available or still to be identified and studied, it is impossible to say how long this research on the provenance of „The Art of Painting“ will take.

As in all other cases, the Commission will collect and publish the results of this provenance research in a dossier to be presented to the Kunstrückgaberat (Board on the Return of Art), that will discuss them and decide on a recommendation to be presented to the Austrian Minister in charge of museums.

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