Some families collect and pass down art as heirlooms. Inheritances within well-documented families, such as members of the Peerage of England, can simplify the reconstruction of a provenance.
On the other hand, titled families share similar names over time, muddying distinctions between generations and branches. The custom of women assuming a husband’s surname presents another challenge. Genealogical research employs sources such as birth, marriage, and death certificates; wills; family correspondence; ship manifestos; immigration documents; and even tax declarations to sort through identities and locate heirs.
Madonna and Child with Four Saints’s curatorial record indicated it once belonged to Mrs. H. Harris Jonas. Labels on the back of the painting revealed it was loaned to a New York exhibition in 1929 by Hattie Schulte and to a Chicago exhibition in 1934 by Mrs. Edouard Jonas. Genealogical research disproved an initial hunch that this painting was a family heirloom bequeathed to successive generations of women. The truth was far simpler: all the names belonged to a single woman. (see fig 2, above)
This case demonstrates the “née vortex:” the conundrum of serial-wedders changing surnames. It also shows the necessity of learning monikers for names that have declined in popularity.
Harriet (Hattie) Harris married David H. Schulte in 1905 and took the name Hattie Schulte. She divorced Schulte in 1929 and married French art dealer Edouard Jonas the following year, taking the name Mrs. L. Edouard Jonas. They divorced in 1941, and she subsequently used the names Mrs. H. Harris Jonas and Mrs. Harriet H. Jonas.
A resident of New York, Harriet owned Madonna and Child with Four Saints by 1929 and until at least 1953—most likely until her death in 1974.
Author: Nancy Karrels, graduate student in Art History and curator of Provenance: A Forensic History of Art, 2017.