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Incubator Gallery

Off the Map:
The Provenance of a Painting

September 18, 2021 – January 09, 2022
Joseph Wright of Derby (attributed), British, Portrait of an Artist (detail), 18th century. Oil on canvas, 29 1/8 x 24 1/2 inches (74 x 62.2 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Bequest of Mary D.B.T. Semans in memory of her mother, Mary Duke Biddle; 2013.3.1. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

About

Joseph Wright of Derby (attributed), British, Portrait of an Artist, 18th century. Oil on canvas, 29 1/8 x 24 1/2 inches (74 x 62.2 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Bequest of Mary D.B.T. Semans in memory of her mother, Mary Duke Biddle; 2013.3.1. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.
Joseph Wright of Derby (attributed), British, Portrait of an Artist, 18th century. Oil on canvas, 29 1/8 x 24 1/2 inches (74 x 62.2 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Bequest of Mary D.B.T. Semans in memory of her mother, Mary Duke Biddle; 2013.3.1. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

The objects that fill museums have often traveled long distances and passed through many hands to arrive at their current location. The physical movement of artworks through time and space becomes a part of their story, adding layers of meaning to the objects’ existence. To study a work’s history of ownership is to research its provenance. From the French word provenir, or “to come from,” provenance relates to an object’s origins and the path it has taken over tens, hundreds, and even thousands of years. Establishing provenance—past owners, locations, and types of transactions—addresses issues of attribution, histories of taste, cultural and monetary value, and notions of ownership itself.

Off the Map: The Provenance of a Painting provides a case study in provenance research of a single work in the Nasher Museum’s collection: Portrait of an Artist, attributed to Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797) and bequested to the Nasher in 2013 by Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans. From England to Berlin, New York to Durham, the 18th-century painting has journeyed far and seen numerous owners, auctions houses, and exhibitions since its creation 250 years ago. Sections of this installation address the painting’s change in attribution, archival documents related to its history, physical evidence from the frame and stretcher, and its recent conservation—all aspects of establishing the work’s provenance that create a fuller, though still incomplete, record of its life up to the present moment.

Organization & Support

This exhibition is organized by Molly Boarati, Associate Curator at the Nasher Museum.

Special thanks to David Beaudin, Ruth Cox, Merritt Hampton, Chris Harris, Annika Hossain, Beth Semans Hubbard, Mary Trent Jones, Nancy Karrels, Ian Kennedy, Joe Lucas, Mimi O’Brien, James Duke Biddle Trent Semans, and the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University.

Off the Map: The Provenance of a Painting is supported by The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation and The Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

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