November 24, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection and the Kunstmuseum Bern: Acceptance of Bequest comes with agreement to conduct provenance research

The press conference in Berlin today generated a great deal of media interest as to if and how the Kunstmuseum in Bern would accept the bequest of Cornelius Gurlitt -- a long-hidden collection of artwork mired in accusations of Nazi-looting.  The collection consists of around 1,300 works of art on canvas and paper including paintings and sketches by Chagall, Picasso, and Claude Monet.  The bulk of the cache was discovered in Gurlitt’s Munich apartment following a routine tax investigation.

Image credit: Hannibal Hanschke
Christoph Schäublin, the director and president of the Kunstmuseum Bern's board of trustees, said that after extensive deliberation Germany, Bavaria and the Kunstmuseum Bern had reached a formal written agreement viewable in German here to formally accept the Gurlitt collection.  Schäublin emphasized that artworks directly looted from Jewish owners during the Nazi era would not enter into the collection of the Kunstmuseum Bern and would be returned to their rightful heirs.  Works suspected of having been stolen, with no claimants currently identified would remain in Germany for the immediate future to allow for further investigation by the special task already established, with an emphasis on determining the provenance of each of the pieces.  An update on the status of the task force's research is expected sometime in 2015.

Melissa Eddy reporting from Berlin for The New York Times writes in "Kunstmuseum Bern Obtains Trove from Gurlitt Collection" that Schäublin described that a 'privately funded team of experts [would] comb the history of each piece before it came into the museum's possession' .... and that a public list would be made available soon.

German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters stated that she believed that the signing of the accord by all parties represented "a milestone in coming to terms with our history" referring to Germany’s responsibilities for losses under the Nazi regime.

Cornelius Gurlitt's 86-year-old cousin Uta Werner, applied Friday to the Munich Probate Court for a certificate of inheritance in connection with her deceased cousin's estate. Speaking tothe press on Friday through legal counsel she indicated they would be contesting Gurlitt’s fitness of mind at the time he wrote the will naming the Bern museum as his sole heir meaning any resolution in this restitution case could prove lengthy. 


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