Here is a challenging problem: I want to find out who owns a painting. The painting in question is a minor work by an important European impressionist-era artist. If it were to be auctioned today, it would probably sell for at least $2 million. It was last seen when it sold at auction in the early 1980s. However, the buyer was private and anonymous.

I have sent emails to academic specialists who are experts in the artist and they do not respond to my messages. I talked to one professor who is an expert in 19th-century fine art and she told me that a few key European dealers probably know who has the painting, but they will not reveal anything to me because they consider such information to be a professional or trade secret.

I sent an email inquiry to a famous Dutch "art detective" offering to hire him to identify the painting's owner, but he made no answer to my inquiry.

So, I am stumped. How do I find out who owns the painting? Legally, of course.

  • Hi Tyler, point of information: Legally, in what jurisdiction? The reasons you were given may be good reasons; but, not necessarily the real reason. Your motive for having the information may be questioned and/or questionable. Finally, the owner may not be the one in possession of a/the piece of your interest. No doubt you've already researched the issue from the other side—how to attain and maintain your anonymity from others—to find gaps in the security. Writing a screenplay/novel/docudrama?
    – Stan
    Apr 17 at 21:51
  • Auction houses and art dealers will guard their clients' and customers' privacy closely, because it's an important part of their reputation. If you suspect a particular individual has it hanging on their wall, there are various ways to confirm, from checking their Instagram to breaking and entering. Otherwise (especially if it's in a bank vault/specialist art storage company) you will have to rely on asking around, gossip, etc.
    – Stuart F
    May 4 at 11:43

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