Museum Set to Accept Art Nazis Looted

Franz-Marc

The Kunstmuseum Bern is expected to decide as early as Saturday to accept the estate of the late Cornelius Gurlitt.

BERN, Switzerland— MARY M. LANE reports: A small art museum in the Swiss capital is preparing to take possession of more than 1,000 artworks bequeathed to it by the son of one of Hitler’s main art dealers, unshackling Germany from an embarrassing burden that has weighed on it for a year.

Barring any last-minute legal objections, the Kunstmuseum Bern is expected to decide as early as Saturday to accept the estate of the late Cornelius Gurlitt, according to three people familiar with the museum board’s discussions.

‘When something like this falls into your lap of course you’re going to vote to take it.’

—A person at the Kunstmuseum Bern’s board meetings

That could expedite restitution for heirs of Holocaust victims, many of whom have seen their claims that the art was stolen from their families languish since the existence of the trove was publicly revealed a year ago. For some works, restitution could happen within days if the museum accepts the bequest.

Stuart Eizenstat, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ’s special adviser on Holocaust issues, called the prospect “tremendously welcome and wonderful.”

“It was obvious from the start, and a huge source of angst, that accepting the works would fundamentally change the identity of our museum forever.”

The collection includes masterpieces by Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and Pierre Auguste-Renoir and was amassed during and shortly after World War II by Mr. Gurlitt’s father, a museum director turned art dealer for Hitler. Historians and lawyers have already concluded the trove contains several pieces stolen from European Jews by the Nazis.

The Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland.European Pressphoto Agency

The Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland.European Pressphoto Agency

The German government has been quietly urging the museum to accept the art, according to the people familiar with the discussions. Since the existence of the trove was revealed a year ago, Berlin has been under pressure from Holocaust victims’ families as well as the U.S. and Israeli governments to return all stolen pieces to their original owners.

“One of the prime pieces is an Henri Matisse portrait of a creamy-skinned brunette that a German-government appointed group of experts has already determined is looted.”

Mr. Gurlitt unexpectedly bequeathed his estate to the museum shortly before he died May 6 at 81. According to the will Mr. Gurlitt signed on his deathbed, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the Kunstmuseum Bern would be required to conduct this research and restitution. Museum director Matthias Frehner has pledged that it would do so if it accepts the bequest.

If the museum were to decline the collection, it would go to Mr. Gurlitt’s distant relatives, who are dispersed in and outside Germany. While his will stipulates that they also return Nazi-looted art, lawyers say there is no way to make sure the multiple heirs conduct such research properly or efficiently outside of going to court, meaning individual cases could drag on for years.

One of the prime pieces is an Henri Matisse portrait of a creamy-skinned brunette that a German-government appointed group of experts has already determined is looted. Read the rest of this entry »


Swiss Museum Sole Heir in Will of Art Collector Cornelius Gurlitt

Hildebrand Gurlitt originally assembled his son Cornelius's collection. Photograph: AP

Hildebrand Gurlitt originally assembled his son Cornelius’s collection. Photograph: AP

Several works in his collection suspected of having been looted from Jewish families during Nazi era

For The GuardianPhilip Oltermann writes: A Swiss museum has inherited one of the most controversial art collections in recent European history. Kunstmuseum Bern confirmed on Wednesday it has been named the “unrestricted and unfettered sole heir” in the will of the reclusive collector Cornelius Gurlitt, who died on Tuesday.

[See also: Oops! Nazi-Looted Art Found in German Parliament]

Several works in the collection, which was originally assembled by Gurlitt’s father Hildebrand, are suspected of having been looted from Jewish families during the Nazi era. A taskforce of art experts is examining the provenance of the works in a secret location in Germany until the end of the year.

[See also: First glimpse of newly uncovered, Nazi looted art collection released on German website]

Kunstmuseum Bern’s director, Matthias Frehner, said in a statement: that the news had come “like a bolt from the blue”, since Gurlitt had at no time had any connection to the museum. Already boasting works by Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee, the museum could soon be showing paintings and sketches by Claude Monet,Pierre-Auguste RenoirMarc Chagall, Oskar Kokoschka and Max Liebermann among others. Read the rest of this entry »