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Provenance: Get Started

Resources to discover the history of the ownership of works of art

About This Guide

This guide points Fine Arts students to library resources that may prove useful for tracking down the provenance of works of art.

Online Resources

Here is a list of the online resources referrred to in this guide.

Provenance Library Research

The  provenance of a work of art includes:

  • owners’ names and dates of ownership
  • places of ownership, from creation to the present
  • means of transference, e.g. inheritance, sale through a dealer, sale through an auction

Library research methodology:

    • retrieve metadata to identify the current owner and location
    • consult with the museum where item is held
  1. Search for a catalogue raisonnéfor the artist
    • provenance information may be included
  2. Search for catalogues of exhibitions that included the work
    • find ownership information at least for date of the exhibit
  3. Search for biographical information on the artist
    • find clues to artist's associates and dates of sales
    • discover any major collectors of the artist's work
  4. Search for articlesthat may provide clues
    • scholarly journal articles
    • articles on Canadian topics
    • newspaper and magazine articles
  5. Search for other scholarly sources
    • monographs and collections of essays
    • theses and dissertations

Subject Guide

Sara Thompson's picture
Sara Thompson
Dana Porter Library
University of Waterloo
519-888-4567 ext. 35623