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Nazi-Era Provenance Research

Sample Provenance Report

John Hoppner
The Digby Children
18th-19th century British painting
ca. 1778-1810
Oil on canvas, 127.6 cm x 101.3 cm
(50 1/4 in. x 39 7/8 in.)
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Ralph Coskey 1978/2.21

UMMA [1978-present] received as gift from Dr. Ralph and Mrs. Carol Coskey, Southfield Michigan [1978]. Dr. Eugene and Therese Lownes Noble [1933–1974] 1 purchased at auction from 2: Brig. Gen. Sir Charles and Lady Gunning, London [1933] 3 by descent from sitter’s family 4.

1Sold from the estate of Therese Lownes Noble at New York Sotheby Parke Bernet auction on June 18, 1974, lot 67 (illustrated).

2Knoedler Library’s annotated copy of American Art Association Anderson Galleries’ April 27, 1933 auction catalog lists “Dr. Noble (Mrs. Lownes)” as the buyer.

3Sold by Brig. Gen. Sir Charles and Lady Gunning at American Art Association Anderson Galleries auction on April 27, 1933, lot 23 (illustrated).

4According to a note in the 1933 auction catalog (replicated in the 1974 catalogue), this portrait has been in the Gunning family since it was painted. Gunning was the maiden name of mother (Charlotte Margaret Digby) of the children in the portrait (Robert Henry and Isabella Digby).


Public auctions are a common way to buy and sell works of art. Auction houses publish catalogs that list the items to be auctioned at a particular sale. These catalogues are frequently used in provenance research. Items put up for auction are often listed in the catalogs with the names of the sellers and those of previous owners. Auction houses sometimes issue price lists indicating the final selling prices (some would also include buyers’ names) that were added to the catalogs after the conclusion of the sale.

As a way of monitoring the art market, some people—most commonly art dealers—attend sales even when they have no intentions of bidding, and then record the names of buyers and the prices paid. In addition, news clippings about the artist, the collector, or the sale were sometimes added. These annotated catalogs are another valuable resource to the provenance researcher. One of the largest collections of annotated catalogs was assembled by Knoedler and Co., a longstanding New York dealer.

In the case of UMMA’s Hoppner portrait, The Digby Children, auction catalogs and dealer annotations serve as evidence that the painting was in the hands of the rightful owners throughout World War II. The April 27, 1933 American Art Association Anderson Galleries auction catalog states that the portrait had been in the Gunning family since it was painted. (Genealogical research—another frequently used research method employed by provenance researchers—confirms that the sellers, Brig. Gen. Sir Charles and Lady Gunning of London, are descended from the sitters.) In the Knoedler and Co. Library’s copy of this 1933 catalog, a handwritten note indicates that the Hoppner portrait was purchased by “Dr. Noble (Mrs. Lownes).” From the June 18, 1974 Sotheby Parke Bernet auction catalog, we learn that the portrait was sold from the estate of Therese Lownes Noble.