Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Rape of the Sabine Women, c. 1718–1719, oil on canvas, 43.5 x 74cm Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

Every Picture Has a Story

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum embarks on a research project in preparation for an exhibition of paintings by the Tiepolos, Chief Curator Dr. Ira Westergård talks to Gill Crabbe about the importance of provenance research in art-historical practice

Provenance research is an increasingly important aspect of art-historical research within art museums, not just in terms of acquisitions but also in maintaining the quality of their collections and strengthening their loan activities, as well as contributing to the wider canon of academic knowledge. Good museum practice includes a concept of stewardship that extends to an active commitment to developing an ever deepening understanding of the objects in their care.

There are trends in art-history practice just as there are trends in how art itself is collected and displayed. Today the importance of provenance research is affected not only by an increasing interest in exploring the contextual history of art objects, but also by concerns since the late-20th century surrounding the legality of ownership and the expropriation of cultural property, as well as of course the processes of attribution and authentication of an artwork. In the past century in particular, many important works of art, especially Old Masters, have been dispersed in museums and private collections all around the world, so the trend for current art-historical exhibitions is also to reunite artworks that are considered to have been closely linked, in order to learn more about an artist’s oeuvre.

So it is timely that the Sinebrychoff Art Museum is currently reviewing the provenance of two of its paintings in preparation for an exhibition focusing on the interest of collectors in the art of the Tiepolos in late-18th and 19th-century Northern Europe. ‘We aim to clarify that the archival documents already known are correct and to see what more can be found,’ explains Ira Westergård, Chief Curator at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, who is heading up the provenance research project on its two Tiepolo paintings, The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770) and Greeks Entering Troy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727–1804). ‘We want to go further and look into a wider range of archives. We also want to look into the provenance from the starting point of the works – that is a part of the provenance that has yielded very little documentation so far. One of the aims of this exhibition is to look at how these paintings from the 18th century travelled from the art market to collections and thence to public collections in Europe.’

Featured image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Rape of the Sabine Women, c. 1718–19, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 74cm. Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

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