Provenance transaction types

Explore all the provenance transaction types available on the platform to best represent your artwork’s history.

Provenance is an integral part of the history of an artwork as it informs about changes in ownership and their circumstances. It provides valuable information for collectors, scholars and art enthusiasts. Choosing the right transaction type is critical to correctly representing a provenance event, ensuring accurate and clear documentation.

This article provides an overview of provenance transaction types currently available on the platform.

Overview of transaction types

The transaction types cover three different categories: 

  • Change of ownership (e.g., acquisition)
  • Change of possession (e.g., stored, on deposit)
  • Unrightful ownership changes (e.g. looting, forced sale)
Transaction type Description Example

The named party acquired the artwork through an unspecified means.

This transaction type is the default selection for acquisitions and pertains to instances where you don’t know additional details. Select this type when there is no explicit mention of the acquisition method.

Estate of John Smith (1907–8)
Artis's studio The artwork is received directly from the artist's studio, documenting either the moment of reception or a period when the piece was stored within the artist's studio. Studio of the artist (1952–77)
Bequest The artwork is given to the receiver through a will following the death of the previous owner or source. John Smith, New York, bequest (1952)
By descent The artwork was given to the receiver following the death of a previous owner who was their family member.  John Smith, New York, by descent (1957)
By exchange An acquisition wherein the named party received the artwork in exchange for something valuable, not involving monetary transactions. John Smith, New York, by exchange (1978)
Commissioned The artwork was commissioned by the named party. John Smith, New York, commissioned from the artist (1977)
Confiscation The artwork is legally taken possession of by an entity without the consent of the previous owner. Confiscated by John Smith, New York (1952)
Consigned The artwork was given to the named party in order for them to sell the artwork. During this process the named party is not the owner of the artwork but merely the custodian. On consignment with Sotheby's, New York (1952)
Destroyed The artwork was permanently destroyed. Destroyed (1960)

Donation The artwork is donated to the receiver, typically an organization. Robert Lehman Collection, New York, donation (1952–77)
Forced sale The receiver purchased the artwork by using involuntary pressure on the seller.  Forced sale to John Smith, New York (1997)
Fractional gift A fraction of the source’s entire interest in an artwork is transferred to the receiver. The source intends to transfer the remaining fraction at a future date. Fractional gift to Robert Lehman Collection, New York (1989)
Gift The artwork is given to the receiver, usually an individual or a collective, rather than an institution. John Smith, New York, gift (1897)
In possession The named party has temporary custody, but not ownership of this artwork. Anderson Galleries, New York (1889)
Inherited The artwork is given to the receiver following the death of the previous owner who was not part of the immediate family. John Smith, New York, inherited (1904)
Location unknown The artwork cannot be located. Location unknown (1942–67)
Looting The artwork was looted during a conflict, such as a war, by the named party. Looted by John Smith, New York (1952–74)
On deposit The named party has been given temporary custody without permission to sell or exhibit the artwork. On deposit with John Smith, New York (1946–50)
On loan The named party has been given temporary custody for use, but without permission to sell the artwork. On loan to John Smith, New York (1977)
Partial gift The artwork is transferred from one party to a legal entity that includes both themselves and another party. Partial gift to John Smith, New York (1954)
Promised gift The current owner of the artwork intends to give it to the receiver, e.g., a museum. Depending on the institution, there is a formal process whereby the artwork receives an inventory number and the transaction type is included in the credit line. Promised gift to John Smith, New York (1975)
Restitution Restitution of unlawfully acquired artworks, including looted, expropriated, extorted, or forcibly sold items, to their rightful owners or their legal successors. Restituted (1968)
Return The artwork was returned to its owner from a party which had temporary custody. Returned to John Smith, New York (1947)
Sale The artwork was purchased by the named party. John Smith, New York (1923)

The artwork is legally taken possession of by the receiver, often acting on behalf of the state or for sovereign use, without the previous owner’s consent.

When used to describe Nazi activities during the WWII-era, the term implies that the artwork is not eligible for restitution.

John Smith, New York, seized (1974)

Sous réserve d'usufruit

The artwork's ownership is contingent upon the right of usufruct, allowing someone else to use and benefit from the artwork while another party maintains ultimate ownership. Sous réserve d’usufruit pour John Smith, New York (1952–86)
Stolen The artwork was stolen by the named party. Stolen by John Smith, New York (1939)

The artwork is kept, e.g., in a room or depot for future use

Stored with Anderson Galleries, New York (1968–87)

The artwork was transferred within the same named party, involving the movement of the artwork between different parts or elements of the organization. Additionally, it encompasses the transition from partial ownership to complete ownership by one of the partial owners.

Anderson Galleries, New York, transfer (1969)


These options will be continuously expanded to meet the requirements of new research results unearthed by the projects using the platform. If you can’t find a transaction type to accurately represent your provenance case, contact our support team to find a solution!

Keep reading:

Last updated: January 24, 2024