Skip to main content

Provenance Research: Home

From the PMA Library Collection


Museum and other art blogs are good sources of fascinating provenance discoveries.

Sophie's Story: the Narrow Escape of a Painting by Paul Klee

Researching Provenance


The term “provenance” refers to the origins and history of something. In the art world, it typically encompasses the history of ownership and in essence, the life of the artwork. This “life story” of the object is fundamental to determine its authenticity and value. It also informs how the work is interpreted by curators and other scholars. The provenance of an object also enriches our understanding of an artwork; what makes it significant in addition to its visual appeal.

This guide is not exhaustive, rather, it is intended to introduce you to the basic tools and many types of resources that will help you get started in your quest to learn the story of an an artwork

Museum Provenance Resources

Many museums have provenance research projects and follow practices established by organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums, largely in response, but not limited to the misappropriation of objects during World War II.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art Provenance Research Page

Frick Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America

Getty Project for the Study of Collecting and Provenance

Metropolitan Museum of Art Provenance Research

Metropolitan Museum of Art Selected Museum Provenance Research Projects in the US and Abroad

Smithsonian Institution-Provenance in the World War II Era

Other General Sources

Auction and Sales Results Sources

Auction sales resources are a great starting point for researching an object or the proliferation of an artist's work, and are readily available through the PMA Library Digital Resources page and Online Catalog

Artist and Collector's Marks Resources

Early Literature on Collections

Genealogical Resources

Image Archives and Collections

Private and Public Collection Catalogues and Monographs