Provenance Research at the Norton Simon Museum

Documenting provenance—that is, the history of ownership—of works of art in the Norton Simon collections has been a priority throughout the Museum’s history. Norton Simon and his curators gathered and reviewed provenance histories as part of the process of considering works of art for acquisition. In the following decades, Museum curators and independent scholars took this research further; known histories for all the works of art that Simon acquired have been published in a series of scholarly collection catalogues, available in libraries and for sale in our Store. Beginning in the 1990s, the Museum began making provenance, exhibition histories and published references available on its website. This work continues.

While the Norton Simon Entities* ceased purchasing works of art prior to Norton Simon’s death in 1993, the Museum continues to receive gifts of art that are related to artists and objects already represented in its holdings. The provenance of any proposed donation must be documented and demonstrate the lawful transfer of ownership, in keeping with professional guidelines issued by the International Council of Museums, the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors.

The Norton Simon Entities are committed to updating and expanding public access to provenance information regularly.

World War II–Era Provenance
Norton Simon began collecting art in the 1950s, less than 10 years after the end of World War II. The majority of the works he collected during the next few decades were by European artists from the 15th to 20th centuries, purchased through well-known art dealerships that provided known provenance. In the late 1990s, the Norton Simon Entities pursued an intensive research agenda to learn more about the World War II–era provenance of these collections. Museum staff and provenance specialists reviewed American and European archives and libraries to close gaps in ownership history, particularly during the crucial years of 1933–45, when many objects in European collections forcibly changed hands. The results of this research are publicly accessible in object entries published in our scholarly catalogues as well as on this website.

For those interested in learning more about the lawsuit and ownership history of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve (c. 1530), the Norton Simon Art Foundation has issued this statement.

South and Southeast Asia
In the early 1970s, Norton Simon began collecting art and antiquities that originated from countries in South and Southeast Asia, including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand and Cambodia. These objects, some dating back two thousand years, were purchased predominantly from art dealerships in New York and London. Known provenance information for these objects was published in Collector without Walls: Norton Simon and His Hunt for the Best (2010) by Sara Campbell. We are committed to expanding our research efforts related to the South and Southeast Asian Art collections and have embarked on a multiyear effort to publish known provenance information about these works of art on our website.

The Norton Simon Entities recognize that notions of ownership and ethical standards of collecting are changing, notably in regard to antiquities or objects removed from their sites of origin. As laws and guidelines have evolved, so too have our collecting policies and procedures. We have worked successfully with foreign governments to resolve questions involving works of art in our collections, including the 10th-century sculpture known as the Temple Wrestler, which was repatriated to Cambodia in 2014.

The Museum’s Curatorial Department encourages inquiries and can be contacted at any of the addresses listed below.

E-mail: Contact Us
Telephone: (626) 449-6840 x 3500
Postal address: Chief Curator
Norton Simon Museum
411 W. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91105

* The Norton Simon Entities comprise the Norton Simon Museum, the Norton Simon Art Foundation and The Norton Simon Foundation.