Collections and Exhibitions Due Diligence Policy

1.  Introduction

1.1 The National Portrait Gallery’s overall aim (derived from the provisions of the 1992 Museums and Galleries Act) underpins its strategic objectives. The aim is:

  • … to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture, and
  • …to promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media.

1.2 Two of the key strategic objectives, as stated in the Gallery’s Corporate Plan 2017-27 are:

  • to develop the Collection, creating opportunities for acquisition and commission, while improving its care and conservation and;
  • To increase the understanding of and engagement with the Collection and the art of portraiture through outstanding interpretation, research, exhibitions and displays, learning publishing, regional and digital programmes.

1.3 The National Portrait Gallery does this to the highest professional and ethical standards and in compliance with all applicable laws.

1.4 This policy sets out the principles regarding provenance and provenance research to which the National Portrait Gallery adheres when considering any acquisition or inward loan and complies with the principles set out in Combating Illicit Trade: Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material (DCMS 2005). In addition, this document is supplemented by the National Portrait Gallery’s Collections Development Policy.

2. Statement of Principles

2.1 The National Portrait Gallery will not accept as a loan, gift or bequest any object without confirmation that the donor, vendor or lender has valid and legal title to retain and transfer the object. The National Portrait Gallery will ensure that there is good title for every acquisition.

2.2 The National Portrait Gallery will exercise due diligence to establish the legal status of objects under consideration, making every reasonable effort to investigate and clarify the provenance of an object. In practicing due diligence, the National Portrait Gallery will apply high standards to its research into acquisitions, long term loans and exhibition loans.

2.3 Where necessary, the National Portrait Gallery will extend research beyond the information supplied by the vendor, donor or lender in an effort to clarify the history of the object. Further guidance and advice may be sought from external curators in other museums and galleries, specialists, academic institutions and major auction houses.

2.4 The National Portrait Gallery will only acquire or borrow those objects for which provenance has been established or, through presence in the public domain, are judged to have a history that, as far as possible, is secure.

2.5 Information obtained about the provenance of an object should be documented and preserved. All relevant correspondence, details of published information, signed loan agreements, lender’s evidence, and photographic evidence is to be kept on permanent files, in accordance with Spectrum: UK Documentation Standard for Museums, and under direction from the National Archives on stewardship of public records and the Archive Service Accreditation Standard.

2.6 Title and copyright information is sought in the Temporary Deposit Form or Loan Agreement, a Provenance Checklist/due diligence form is completed and title information included in the offers paper template for the Board of Trustees. Copyright information is captured in a separate Copyright Form. The transfer of title and loan agreement forms include clauses around good title.

2.7 The National Portrait Gallery will consider spoliation as a priority using the procedures of due diligence in provenance research and ensure all curatorial, collections and exhibitions staff are provided with training, on an annual basis, to consider latest knowledge and relevant areas of research.

2.8 The National Portrait Gallery recognises that in practice some objects are not always accompanied by detailed histories and that in these circumstances, having taken into account information gathered through the curators’ research which must be conducted according to the National Portrait Gallery’s minimum standards, best judgment must apply.

2.9 Notwithstanding high standards of research, the National Portrait Gallery also recognises that there may be circumstances in which an object is acquired or borrowed for which the history is deemed to be reasonably secure and is accepted in good faith, but for which legitimate ownership is nonetheless challenged. In these cases, the National Portrait Gallery is committed to giving prompt and serious consideration to bona fide enquiries over ownership and claims to title, under the applicable guidelines.

2.10 The National Portrait Gallery is an approved institution for the provision of Immunity from Seizure and acts within the parameters set out by the Department for Culture Media and Sport.

3. Expertise

3.1 Collection and Short/Long term loans-in – Application of due diligence procedures is carried out by the period Curators and is checked by the Chief Curator. The Curators work with the Gallery’s due diligence guidelines and DCMS guidelines Combating Illicit Trade (DCMS, October 2005).

3.2 Exhibitions – Application of due diligence procedures are assigned by the Exhibitions Manager and Chief Curator to the Curator (or Assistant Curator(s) where available) or the NPG Link Curator where the lead curation is undertaken by an external freelance Exhibition Curator and are checked by the Chief Curator, who are required to work with the Museum’s due diligence guidelines and DCMS guidelines Combating Illicit Trade (DCMS, October 2005).

3.3 Where appropriate, further guidance and advice will be sought from additional curatorial and specialist consultants, such as colleagues from within the National Portrait Gallery, other national Museums, academic institutions, and major auction houses as well as consulting the Art Loss Register and other art loss databases.

3.4 The Director of the National Portrait Gallery has overall responsibility for ensuring the appropriate due diligence procedures are carried out.

4. Due Diligence Procedure

4.1 An exhibition or collection Curator is required to undertake full provenance checks for all objects proposed for inclusion in the Gallery’s Collection through:

  • short or long term loan, purchase, gift, bequest, fractional (shared) ownership, exchange, allocation or transfer.

4.2 Checks are also undertaken for existing long loans undergoing review and renewal.

4.3 These checks include:

  • Consultation with lender on provenance;
  • Full ownership history where possible, with special consideration of 1933-45 period and any information which suggests irregularity of ownership/ acquisition;
  • Title documentation, evidencing that it is good, prepared by the Collections Registrar, approved by the Chief Curator and brought to a Curatorial Meeting for discussion in advance of each Trustees meeting, where potential Primary Collection acquisitions are brought for approval. Relevant checks are also undertaken for the Reference Archive and Photographic Collections as required.
  • Legitimate title of the current owner;
  • Lender’s legal authority to lend (as declared on NPG loan agreement).

4.4 Checks are to comply with, make use of, and be guided by the national and international standards:

  • Statement of Principles issued by the National Museum Directors Conference on spoliation of works of art during the Holocaust and World War II period, 1998; and its 2016 renewal;
  • Combating Illicit Trade: Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on collecting and borrowing Cultural Material, DCMS, October 2005;
  • UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property, 1970;
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora;
  • ICOM Red List;
  • ICOM Code of Ethics, 2013;
  • Museums Association Code of Ethics, 2015;
  • Spectrum: UK Documentation Standard for Museums.
  • Art Loss Register

4.5 The NPG will not proceed with a loan should be any doubt over the legality of its ownership, its removal from its country of origin, or its entry into the UK.

5. NPG Loan Agreement

5.1 The NPG’s standard agreement for loans in requests the lender to:

  • Declare their legal title and confirm their lawful right to lend the object;
  • Declare that they, as lender, are not aware of any past, current or potential claim by a third party;
  • Declare that loans are agreed in accordance with the 1970 UNESCO Convention and in accordance with other applicable national and international conventions and agreements relating to the prevention of illicit trade and the control of trade in endangered species.

5.2 The NPG’s standard agreement for loans-in confirms the NPG’s commitment to:

  • Borrow objects in accordance with the 1970 UNESCO Convention;
  • Borrow objects in accordance with other applicable national and international conventions and agreements relating to the prevention of illicit trade and the control of trade in endangered species;
  • Return the object to the same address as that from which it was lent, or a reasonable alternative by notification, at the termination of the loan.

6. Review

6.1 This Policy will be monitored and reviewed every five years or as required by legislative changes.

Edward Purvis, Head of Collections Services
Approved by the Board of Trustees, November 2023
Date of next review: November 2028