The Met Museum Hires Its First Head of Provenance Research

As part of its more aggressive restitution investigation efforts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Friday announced that it had appointed a Sotheby’s executive to the newly created position of head of provenance research.

Lucian Simmons will leave Sotheby’s, where he is vice chairman and worldwide head of the restitution department — and senior specialist for the Impressionist and Modern art department — to take on the role of coordinating research efforts across the museum, starting in May.

Like museums all over the world, the Met has faced increased scrutiny from law enforcement officials, academics and the news media over the extent to which its collection of more than 1.5 million works includes looted artifacts. In recent years, for example, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has seized dozens of antiquities from the museum to return them to countries including Turkey, Egypt and Italy.

In a telephone interview, Max Hollein, the museum’s director and chief executive, said the volume of materials an auction house must review gave Simmons the background necessary to take on a review of the Met’s encyclopedic collection.

“He has a vast amount of experience understanding the level of research you need to apply and what timelines you need to set to get to a result,” Hollein said. “He probably had to deal with more issues at Sotheby’s than have many other institutions. You have to vet and scrutinize a huge number of objects. He’s someone who understands the theory but who also has a very practical attitude.”

The Met last year announced a major new effort to review its holdings and policies with a view toward returning items it finds to have problematic histories.

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