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Gurlitt's art

Stefan Dege / kbmNovember 18, 2014

Was Cornelius Gurlitt in his right mind when he bequeathed his valuable art collection to the Museum of Fine Arts Bern? A new psychiatric report casts doubt on the soundness of Gurlitt's will.

Name sign on a door reading 'Cornelius Gurlitt', Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

It could have all been so simple. Shortly before his death, the son of art collector Hildebrand Gurlitt willed his massive art collection - which is still is police custody - to a Swiss museum. The hundreds of paintings and drawings, which include Nazi-looted art that once belonged to Jewish collectors, would be relocated to a legally neutral country.

In Gurlitt's trove, the so-called "degenerate art" - works by Jewish artists deemed culturally unacceptable by the Nazis - would be permanently loaned to German museums. In addition, the German task force, under the direction of attorney Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, would be permitted to continue its provenience research, in order to determine which items from the Gurlitt collection had been looted during the Nazi period and should be returned to their Jewish heirs.

When the more than 1,500 works, worth millions of euros, were uncovered in Gurlitt's Munich residence and his Salzburg house in fall of 2013, questions arose that poked deep into Germany's shameful past and renewed the debate of how Nazi-looted art and artifacts should be legally dealt with three-quarters of a century later.

The Gurlitt case, however, seemed to be neatly resolved and shelved - until German newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung" reported Monday that Cornelius Gurlitt's will may not be legally binding.

Diagnosis: paranoia

According to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung," a psychiatric examination indicates that Gurlitt was not mentally stable enough to complete a valid will. Helmut Hausner, lawyer and head physician at the Center for Psychiatry in Cham, in Bavaria, compiled the 48 page report. Cornelius Gurlitt allegedly suffered from "paranoia," which voids his "freedom to decide" while composing his will.

Cornelius Gurlitt in München-Schwabing, Copyright: babiradpicture
Cornelius Gurlitt died in May at the age of 81Image: babiradpicture

Gurlitt is said to have felt that he's been hunted by Nazis since the 1960s, believing that they wanted to steal the paintings he'd inherited from his father. According to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung," Hausner based his findings on documents and letters from Gurlitt's estate.

Will not to be contested

The psychiatric examination was commissioned by two of Gurlitt's legal heirs. Cousins Dietrich Gurlitt and Uta Werner were not mentioned in the will, though they've said they don't plan to contest the document.

The Museum of Fine Arts Bern also has no plans to obtain a certificate of inheritance, according to the news report. "Without an application for a certificate of inheritance, there is no reason in the case of a notarized will for the court to review the competency of the deceased to write a will," wrote the "Süddeutsche Zeitung."

The Bern museum plans to announce on November 26 whether it will accept the inheritance of Cornelius Gurlitt, who passed away on May 6. Should the museum take the collection, the psychiatric report may be quickly forgotten.