Skip navigation

College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Center for Art Collection Ethics

Ellingen Stash Bowl, Pueblo of Zuni

Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Center for Art Collection Ethics

Nearly every week, a news headline announces the latest lawsuit over a valuable work of art. An heir of Holocaust victims sues a museum over a painting stolen by the Nazis. An antiquities-rich country sues a dealer or gallery over objects plundered by profit-seekers. Indigenous peoples claim sacred objects looted by amateur archaeologists and donated to art museums. Often, the objects have been sold multiple times before reaching the current owner, complicating legal and ethical dimensions of the disputes.

In an effort to increase awareness of these issues and promote art provenance (ownership) research training, the University of Denver is establishing a Center for Art Collection Ethics (ACE) in the Divisions of the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences.

Photo Credits:
American soldier inspects German loot stored in a church at Ellingen, Germany, April 24, 1945. Courtesy of National Archives at College Park, MD.
Bowl, Pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico. Courtesy of University of Denver Museum of Anthropology.


Elizabeth Campbell photo
April 3, 2018

Welcome to the Center for Art Collection Ethics

Welcome! You’ve landed on the news blog of the newly established Center for Art Collection Ethics (ACE) within the Divisions of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Denver. Click the above link to learn more about our mission and programs.

Elizabeth Campbell, Director

Women of Weinsberg
May 15, 2018

A just settlement

A recent dispute over a Nazi-plundered painting has led to an unusual agreement between the city of Weinsberg in Bavaria and the Max and Iris Stern Foundation of Montreal. For nearly fifty years, the municipality has proudly displayed Women of Weinsberga 17th-century painting by Dutch artist Gerrit Claesz Bleke. A depiction of local medieval resistance to King Conrad III during the Holy Roman Empire, the work itself has a turbulent past from the Nazi era. The prewar owner, Jewish dealer and gallery owner Max Stern, sold it under duress in Düsseldorf along with four hundred other works in his collection. Stern fled to Britain and eventually emigrated to Canada, where he re-established his art dealership.

In 2014, the Max Stern Art Restitution Project of Montreal discovered the painting in Weinsberg and approached the city to reach a settlement. Last fall, local authorities agreed to restitute the painting to the Foundation, which then sold it back to the city at an undisclosed price. It is an example of just settlements that can be achieved when museums and other entities recognize the moral responsibility of restitution in response to valid claims.

Photo Credit: This 17th-century painting, Women of Weinsberg, was found to be one of the hundreds of artworks Jewish German art dealer Max Stern was forced to liquidate under the Nazi regime. (Courtesy of city of Weinsberg / Max Stern Art Restitution Project). Retrieved from

Sara Jacobsen
April 17, 2018

Seattle teen challenges father to investigate ethics of holding a Native American sacred belonging

“ our country there are so many things that white people have taken that are not theirs, and I didn’t want to continue that pattern.” A Seattle teen, Sara Jacobsen, made this candid remark when describing a cultural property dilemma faced by her family. Thanks to an art history class at her high school, Sara realized that a Native American robe displayed in her father’s home for thirty years is not merely a decorative piece; it is a sacred Chilkat robe created by Native Americans in Alaska and British Columbia who believe it carries the spirits of their ancestors. With some help from the Burke Museum in Seattle, Sara's father confirmed the robe’s religious importance and donated the robe to the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau, Alaska, where master weavers have been examining it. SHI Executive Director Rosita Worl hopes the story will prompt other collectors to reconsider whether they should be holding sacred Native American belongings.

Photo Credit: Sara Jacobsen. From

Dead Sea Scroll Fragment
April 24, 2018

Does the Museum of the Bible hold modern forgeries of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Museum of Nature and Science in Denver is running an exhibition through September 3, 2018 that features fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, plus more than 500 artifacts from the ancient Middle East. Organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the show premiered at Discovery Times Square in New York in 2011 and Denver is the last stop on the U.S. tour.

Photo Credit: Dead Sea Scrolls fragment, Museum of the Bible. From

Elgin Marbles at British Museum
June 5, 2018

Corbyn would return Elgin Marbles to Greece

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has stepped into the debate over the Elgin Marbles held at the British Museum, vowing to return them to Greece if he became prime minister. Created in the 5th century BCE, the sculptures were removed from the Acropolis in the early 1800s by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador at the time, and have been held by the British Museum since 1816. The Greek government has repeatedly issued repatriation claims since the early 1980s and the case has become a symbol of international cultural property disputes. Corbyn reportedly told the Greek newspaper Ta Nea that Britain “should be in constructive talks with the Greek government about returning the sculptures.” Even as prime minister he would face challenges pursuing that objective, as the trustees of the British Museum argue that the sculptures “are everyone’s shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries.” The sculptures likely will remain in the museum for at least the foreseeable future, regardless of Corbyn’s political fortunes.


Photo Credit: One of the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, which has faced requests from Greece for their return  (Getty). Retrieved from

Terrus Museum
May 8, 2018

The promise and perils of local heritage

A picturesque town in the South of France finds itself in the midst of a cultural scandal. Elne , “City of Arts and Culture,” is home to a small museum dedicated to local artist Etienne Terrus (1857-1922), whose illustrious friends included Matisse, Maillol and Derain. Over the past twenty years, the municipality spent some €160,000 collecting the artist’s works, and invested thousands of euros restoring the paintings and renovating the museum facilities. But there is a problem: local art historian Eric Forcada recently determined that 82 of 140 pictures are forgeries, most likely acquired since 2013.

The case of the Terrus museum illustrates the pressures faced by small towns, in France and elsewhere, to draw tourists through their art and heritage. Municipalities must be willing to invest in curators and other experts who will ensure ethical acquisition practices, including authentication and provenance research.

Photo Credit: Visitors exploring the museum dedicated to the French painter Étienne Terrus in Elne, France, on Saturday, one day after it reopened with a significantly reduced collection; taken by Raymond Roig/Agence France-Presse. Retrieved from