Provenance research

The MCAH began an ongoing inventory and historical study of its ethnographic collection in 2016. Most of the collection was acquired by the museum through donations from Africa, North and South America, Asia, and Oceania by Swiss citizens between 1820 and 1980. 

1. Showcase of the Ellenberger collection, from Lesotho, in the exhibition Retracer la provenance (MCAH, 12.10.2021 - 08.05.2022).

This historical research has provided material for several exhibitions, including Exotic ?, Retracer la provenance and Les collections invisibles du MCAH and given rise to the publication of special issues of the series entitled Patrimoines. Collections cantonales vaudoises. It has also revealed the existence of archives and collections from the same donors or geographical origins preserved in other museums and archive centres around Europe and the world. 

2. Detail of a pad saddle, 1st half of the 19th century, undocumented author, Upper Missouri Valley, North Dakota and Minnesota, skin, glass beads, metal, probably part of the Rodolphe Wyss Collection (Red River Colony) - gift ?, I/D-375.

This has made it possible to clearly identify the colonial provenance for some collections. Consequently, provenance research has become a major focus of research into the collection, as recommended by the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums. As a result, the MCAH submitted a project responding to the Federal Office of Culture (FOC) 2022 call for support for 2023 and 2024 which made collections acquired in colonial contexts one of the priorities for provenance research.

3. Pair of beaded moccasins, 20th century, undocumented author, Plains region, smoked buckskin, glass bead, Sister Aline Marie Gerber gift 1987, I/G-0326.

Entitled Collection d’ethnographie du Musée cantonal d’archéologie et d’histoire et origine coloniale ? (Ethnographic collection of the Musée cantonal d’archéologie et d’histoire and colonial origin ?), the project receives support from the FOC, offering the museum the opportunity to conduct more active ongoing provenance research. The project is coordinated and carried out by Claire Brizon, research supervisor at the MCAH, in close collaboration with the provenance research specialists Lange&Schmutz.  

Photo credits: 1, 3 : Nadine Jacquet © MCAH - 2 : Mathieu Bernard-Reymond © MCAH

Press review

Lausanne fouille le passé de ses collectionneurs, Florence Millioud Henriques, 24Heures, 11.02.2023

Ces œuvres qui rentrent au pays, Lena Wurgler, ARCINFO, 03.02.2023