The Museum seeks to enhance the distinction of the collection through the acquisition of works of art by purchase, gift, and bequest. The Museum values quality over quantity. Acquisition activity is a major responsibility of the Curatorial staff, Deputy Director, and Director. The Museum will occasionally acquire objects and materials for:

  • educational programming,
  • functional uses,
  • sale or exchange to benefit the collection, or
  • study purposes.

Such objects and materials will be designated as Apparatus and, as non-accessioned acquisitions, do not require review or approval by the Committee.

The Museum recognizes that its employees and officers may collect works of art for their own personal enjoyment. All such collecting will be conducted in a manner that does not create a conflict of interest with the Museum, or the appearance of a conflict. Specific guidelines are set out in two separate documents – “Staff Guidelines for Professional Practice” and “Ethical Guidelines for Trustees, Overseers, and Governors.”

For All Acquisitions

The Director and Deputy Director together have the authority to approve acquisitions valued at or under $50,000 on behalf of the Committee. The Committee will be informed of all such decisions. Acquisitions above $50,000 require Committee approval.

When time does not permit the advance approval of acquisitions above $50,000 at one of the Committee’s regular meetings, a quorum of the Committee (as defined in the Museum’s by-laws), including the Chair, has the authority to proceed. Such acquisitions will be presented at a subsequent meeting.

The Curator proposing the acquisition and the appropriate Conservator and/or Scientist will make every effort to examine the work of art in person before an acquisition proposal is submitted to the Committee.

Each acquisition proposal will be accompanied by a written recommendation from the relevant Curator that:

  • provides pertinent (“tombstone”) information about the object, including a basic description of the work, materials, date, seller/donor and suggested credit line,
  • describes the importance of the object in the context of the Departmental Collection Strategy,
  • indicates the way the work of art will complement or duplicate other institutional collections in New England,
  • discusses the object in relation to the Museum’s collection as a whole, with particular attention to how works of art have cross-departmental significance,
  • defends the price of the object (for purchases) or provides donor information (for gifts and bequests), and
  • provides all available provenance information.

Except when waived by the Deputy Director, each acquisition proposal will also include a written condition report from the relevant Conservator and/or Scientist that addresses:

  • authenticity of materials and/or technique,
  • condition, and
  • any significant costs or factors relating to conservation, installation, and storage.

The Museum does not typically accept restrictions or conditions on purchases. Gifts and bequests will not be accepted if they are subject to restrictions or conditions that are deemed unreasonable or unduly onerous.

All acquisitions will have credit lines that accurately reflect the nature of the transaction (purchase, gift, bequest, etc.); exceptions will require approval by the Deputy Director.

The Museum will attempt to obtain the broadest possible rights, including copyright where applicable. If copyright is retained by the artist or donor, the Museum will seek permission for appropriate uses.

For Purchases

Fundraising for the acquisition of specific works of art may only be considered in consultation with the Director, Deputy Director, and Deputy Director, External Relations.

From Vendors

The Museum deals to the best of its knowledge with reputable vendors and requires all sellers to sign a Museum Warranty, which outlines the terms and conditions of the sale.

From Auction Houses and On-line Auctions

It is understood that works of art bought from auction houses and on-line auctions are sold “as is” and are subject to the particular Terms and Conditions of Sale established by the individual auction houses and on-line entities. The Museum does not therefore require auction houses and on-line entities to sign a Museum Warranty.

In cases where the effort and/or expense involved in viewing the object presents an undue burden, and with the approval of the Deputy Director, a trusted representative local to the auction venue may be asked to examine the object in place of Museum staff.

Curators, with the approval of the Deputy Director, may place a bid up to $2,500 at an on-line auction and do not need to examine the object in person prior to the bid.

For Gifts and Bequests

Curators will work with the Director and their colleagues in Gifts of Art and across curatorial departments to strategize their work with collectors as part of an institutional approach. Gifts and bequests of works of art offered to the Museum are subject to the same scrutiny as purchases. Some consideration may also be given to the potential for subsequent donations of works of art and/or capital support from the same source.

Gifts will be accompanied by a Deed of Gift and/or other agreement, which legally transfers ownership of the work of art from the donor to the Museum and outlines the terms and conditions of the gift.

Bequests will be accompanied by a copy of the relevant portion of the will and such other probate documentation as may be required by legal counsel.

Gifts and bequests may be accepted as Apparatus and sold without being accessioned or deaccessioned with prior agreement of the donor or notification to the estate when:

  • they are not appropriate for the collection,
  • they are unencumbered by other restrictions, and
  • the monetary value justifies such effort.

Such Apparatus will be identified as “Sold by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for the benefit of the collection” and funds realized will be restricted to the purchase of works of art unless otherwise specified by the donor. The credit line for works of art purchased with the proceeds will include credit to the donor.


The provenance of the object will be taken into account in every acquisition decision.

The Museum believes that the interests of the public are served by collecting the artistic achievements of all civilizations according to the highest standards of ethical and professional practice, in accordance with applicable law, and in such a way that it does not provide a direct and material incentive to looting or theft.

The Museum will not acquire any work of art known to have been stolen, exported from its country of origin (or any other country in which it was subsequently owned) in violation of such country’s laws at the time of its export, or imported into the United States in violation of U.S. law at the time of its importation.


The Museum will thoroughly research the provenance of all proposed acquisitions and take every reasonable precaution to ensure that it can acquire valid title. It will require no less than the minimum provenance documentation recommended by the American Association of Museums (“AAM”) and Association of Art Museum Directors (“AAMD”).

As part of its standard procedure for all proposed acquisitions, the Museum will:

  • substantiate the account of ownership history provided by the donor or vendor by obtaining documentary evidence of an object’s provenance (including, but not limited to: a dated bill of sale or sales receipt, will, inventory, auction catalogue, published reference, exhibition record, correspondence, photograph). or, in exceptional cases, if documentary evidence cannot be obtained, a signed statement from the donor or vendor that confirms the accuracy of the account.
  • contact possible sources of information such as foreign institutions and governmental agencies, the Art Loss Register, other independent registries, and/or colleagues to uncover any potential ownership claims on the object,
  • undertake other appropriate research to ensure that the proposed acquisition has not been illegally appropriated (without subsequent restitution),
  • make every reasonable effort to ensure that the object has been exported from its country of origin (or any other country) in compliance with the laws of such country at the time of export, and imported into the United States in compliance with U.S. law at the time of import by requesting relevant export and import paperwork (such as export licenses and customs documentation) and
  • document the above efforts by completing a detailed provenance questionnaire (unless such a questionnaire is waived by the Deputy Director).

In addition, for the following categories of objects, specific practices will be followed.

For Nazi-Era Provenance

Following the Report of the AAMD Task Force on the Spoliation of Art During the Nazi/World War II Era (1933-1945) (dated June 4, 1998 and April 30, 2001) and the AAM Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era (dated November, 1999 and April, 2001), the Museum will, as part of the standard research on each acquisition, ask sellers, donors, and estate executors to provide as much information as possible with regard to the Nazi era. Where Nazi-era provenance is incomplete or uncertain, the museum will consult available records as well as publications and databases that track illegally appropriated art. In the absence of evidence of illegal appropriation, the work is presumed not to have been illegally appropriated and the acquisition may proceed. The Museum will not acquire a work of art if there is evidence of illegal appropriation without subsequent restitution or other satisfactory resolution of title.

For Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art

Following the AAMD Report on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art (dated June 4, 2008), the Museum recognizes the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (dated Nov. 17, 1970) as providing the most pertinent threshold for the application of more rigorous standards to the acquisition of archaeological materials and ancient art. The Museum will therefore not normally acquire archaeological materials and ancient art unless research substantiates that the work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before Nov. 17, 1970, or was legally exported from its country of probable modern discovery on or after Nov. 17, 1970.

After compliance with the above procedures, the Museum will retain its right to exercise its institutional responsibility to make informed and reasonable judgments about the appropriateness of acquiring works of art.

In order to ensure transparency and aid potential claimants, all accessioned objects will be posted on the Museum’s website and on other applicable databases maintained by the AAM and AAMD. Inquiries regarding potential claims on objects in the collection will be immediately directed to the Deputy Director who will ensure thorough research and a prompt response to each inquiry.