Cantonal museums intensify provenance research

Basel-Stadt is the first Swiss canton to enshrine provenance research in law. From 2023 to 2026, it is also providing one million francs a year for projects that investigate the origins of collection items held by the five cantonal museums.

Basel-Stadt is Switzerland’s first canton to legally oblige its cantonal museums to conduct active and systematic provenance research, by which the origins of items in their collections are investigated. This task often requires highly time-consuming research. To enable this, the cantonal government has earmarked one million francs a year for associated research projects from 2023 to 2026. At the end of 2023, after a call for applications, the canton’s division of cultural affairs selected 14 projects, some of which running until 2026, that together cover all five cantonal museums. So far, a total of CHF 2,319,400 has been allocated for these projects, several of which are co-funded by the Federal Office of Culture. 

Each museum is therefore bound to research the origins of items in their collections. However, the focus and main questions vary from one museum to another. Kunstmuseum and Historisches Museum, for example, look into a possible Nazi persecution-related background to their objects. The chief focus at Kunstmuseum is on in-depth research into certain paintings and into acquisitions for the copperplate engraving cabinet from 1943 to 1945, while Historisches Museum is primarily examining its collection of musical instruments. Research at Antikenmuseum mostly looks into the excavation context of individual objects and the legality of acquisitions, mainly regarding additions to the collection made between 1990 and 2012. Museum der Kulturen and Naturhistorische Museum are researching parts of their collections in view of the acquisition history in a colonial context. The former aims to gain a provenance-related overview of its entire collection and delve deeper into histories that have been identified as problematic, the latter is investigating its collection of human remains from countries with a colonial background.

Further information:
Kunstmuseum Basel Provenienzforschung – Kunstmuseum Basel
Museum der Kulturen | Provenienzforschung (
Provenienzforschung - Footer -
Provenienzforschung - HMB
Provenienz-Forschung (

‘Thulu’ is more than just a tree for the indigenous Kamilaroi people.
‘Thulu’ is more than just a tree for the indigenous Kamilaroi people.
Credits: Photo: Museum der Kulturen
‘Thulu’ is more than just a tree for the indigenous Kamilaroi people.
‘Blockbuch’ restitution at the Portheim foundation