Provenance, Title And The Private Collector
Happily, there are resources available to help private collectors with their investigations into an artwork's provenance.

UCC Filings: Overall, sales of art are governed by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) which most states have enacted as their law. A UCC filing provides notice of a security interest (for example, a lien) that some person or entity holds in a specific item. Not all stolen works of art have UCC filings, and the filing search must be done state by state because there is not a national UCC database. UCC filings will identify most security interests, but they are not a means of detecting historic theft. Perfected UCC security interests only create a priority of right among creditors competing for satisfaction of interests from the secured asset.

Art Loss Register and Interpol: The Art Loss Register ( enables owners to register lost or stolen items and list possession of items in the pre-loss database. Potential buyers may search to see if an item has been entered as lost or stolen. The fees are generally $75 each and $760 for every 25 searches. The Art Loss Register's services include negotiation and the mediation of art title disputes to ensure that stolen artwork is returned to the proper title holder. There are also additional services offered such as World War II registrations and provenance research.

Interpol (, the world's largest international police organization, maintains a database of 34,000 stolen art works. There is no charge for searches, but users must submit an application for approval to receive a password.

Art Title Advisors: For a fee, this firm ( will produce an ownership rights protection report that describes the results of its investigations into a title. The firm checks both public and private databases as well as its extensive network of dealers and museums. The reports provide collectors with a documented record of due diligence structured to help defeat competing ownership claims. Fees for artworks under $250,000 are usually between $750 and $1,000. For art valued between $250,000 and $10 million, the fees range from $2,500 to $3,500.

ARIS Art Title Insurance: The ARIS Corporation ( offers art title insurance, a form of title insurance similar to that used in real estate transactions. For a premium that generally is 1% to 5% of the fair market value of the work at the time of policy issuance, ARIS provides title insurance that typically covers losses due to defective title from past provenance risks, export and import defects and also "classic" title risks such as liens and security interests and authority-to-sell issues. (Premiums can be higher for World War II era provenance gaps.)
Notwithstanding the array of resources available to the collector for establishing and protecting lawful provenance, Christopher Marinello, general counsel to the Art Loss Register, believes that "there remains an underlying moral obligation to avoid the purchase of art which does not have good title and to see that the work is ultimately restituted to the theft victim." In their understandable enthusiasm to acquire beautiful works of art, collectors should not lose sight of this sometimes challenging, but fundamental imperative.    

Rebecca Korach Woan is a principal and founder of Chartwell Insurance Services in Chicago. She regularly comments on insurance matters for national and local publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Art and Antiques, AP Newswire, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, and North Shore Magazine.

First « 1 2 » Next