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A painting by German artist Max Liebermann 'Zwei Reiter am Strande' ("Two Horsemen at the Beach") is beamed to a wall November 5, 2013, at an Augsburg courtroom during a news conference of state prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz and expert art historian Meike Hoffmann from the Berlin Free University. REUTERS/Michael Dalder
Image: Reuters

Swiss museum accepts Gurlitt art bequest

November 24, 2014

A Swiss museum has accepted the bequest of a large trove of artworks belonging to reclusive German collector Cornelius Gurlitt. The inheritance comes with many strings attached.


A Swiss museum on Monday accepted the bequest of an art collection hoarded during the Nazi era and left to it by German recluse art collector Cornelius Gurlitt.

The president of the board of trustees of the Bern Museum of Fine Arts, Christoph Schäublin, made the announcement at a press conference in the German capital, Berlin.

He gave assurances that all works in the collection that had been looted from Jewish owners during the Nazi era would be returned to their rightful owners, adding that works which were suspected of having been stolen would remain in Germany and be investigated by a special task force established to determine their provenance.

The costs for restoring the works to their rightful owners would be taken over by Germany, he said.

A summary (PDF) of the agreement between the Bern Museum of Fine Arts, the German state of Bavaria and the German Federal Government can be seen here.

Spectacular find

Authorities in Bavaria seized the spectacular trove of more than 1,000 artworks - including priceless paintings and sketches by Picasso, Monet, Chagall, Liebermann (above) and other masters - from the flat of German collector Cornelius Gurlitt as part of a tax probe in 2012.

More than 300 other works were later discovered in a home Gurlitt owned in Salzburg.

Gurlitt, who bequeathed the collection to the museum when he died in May, was the son of one of Adolf Hitler's art dealers, who helped plunder artworks from museums and Jewish collectors.

Angry at his treatment by German authorities, who confiscated all of the Munich works, Gurlitt left the collection to a Swiss museum rather than a German one.

Legal challenges likely

Before his death, Gurlitt reached a deal with the German government to check whether any of the works should be restored to heirs of the former Jewish owners. Authorities say the deal would be binding on anyone who accepts the inheritance.

A report by the German news weeky Der Spiegel said that nearly 500 of the works were suspected of being looted.

One of Gurlitt's cousins, 86-year-old Uta Werner, has also laid claim to the trove after a psychiatric assessment called into question Gurlitt's testamentary capacity when writing the will.

That claim could lead to years of legal limbo, with Jewish descendants of the original owners fighting their claims in German courts.

The Munich court dealing with the claim said it would have to be settled before the collection finds its final home anywhere. A court spokeswoman said she did not know how long this would take.

Jewish groups and the US and Israeli governments put pressure on Germany to establish a task force to investigate the provenance of the works.

tj/jr (dpa, AFP)

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