Showing posts with label Gurlitt art collection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gurlitt art collection. Show all posts

February 2, 2017

Foreshadowing for the Cornelius Gurlitt Case?

By: Mairead McAuliffe

On January 13, 2017 a Frankfurt District Court confirmed the legal use of Germany's statute-of-limitation in a Holocaust art restitution case, thereby muting the need for an exacting provenance of the artwork in question. This article questions what this decision indicates for other restitution cases in Germany, specifically the Cornelius Gurlitt case. This piece also explores possible legal amendments to current laws according to Marc Masurovsky*, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project.    

In February 2012, German police and customs officials executed a warrant to search Cornelius Gurlitt's apartment located in Munich. Inside the apartment, officials discovered 121 framed and 1,285 unframed artworks by artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Renoir and Chagall. It was a collection that could be valued at more than a billion dollars. Gurlitt was first placed on a customs watch list in 2010, appearing suspicious to the officials that boarded his train crossing the Lindau border. Gurlitt remained largely untraceable, investigators found no trace of a state pension, health insurance, tax and employment records, or bank accounts. Yet, his name raised some questions with investigators. Cornelius Gurlitt shared a name with Hildebrand Gurlitt, a known art curator under the Third Reich. 

The relation was confirmed in December 2011, when Gurlitt surfaced after selling one of Max Beckmann's masterpieces, The Lion Tamer. Gurlitt split the proceeds of the sale with the heirs of the Jewish art dealer, Alfred Flechtheim, who, as Gurlitt acknowledged, sold the piece under duress to his father in 1934. It was then that authorities acted on the search warrant issued a few months prior, on the grounds of suspected tax evasion and embezzlement, and discovered the trove of art. 

For the next three days, officials packaged and moved the artworks out of Gurlitt's apartment to a customs warehouse in Garching. The discovery was kept from the press as public knowledge of Gurlitt's collection would have sparked mass outcry and an inundation of claims to the art. However, the covert case was exposed on November 4, 2013 when the German newsweekly, Focus, published the story on their front page. The expected firestorm ensued as restitution activists demanded the publishing of the art pieces to allow Holocaust decedents to lay claim to the looted works. 

German restitution laws are, quite frankly, unsympathetic to those who seek reprisal of Nazi looted artworks. Germany did sign the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, which states that museums and other public institutions should return such works to their rightful owners. However, compliance is voluntary and excludes cases in which private citizens hold the pieces – as is the case with Cornelius Gurlitt. Furthermore, Germany enforces a 30-year statute of limitations on making claims to stolen property, thereby calling into question the ability of heirs to lay claim to pieces from Gurlitt's collection. 

Since the discovery, efforts have been made to conduct and complete a provenance trace for the 1,406 artworks found in Gurlitt's apartment. However, despite the possibility of solid, traceable provenance, under German law, there is no mandate to return the artworks to their original owners, or heirs. In November, 2013, the newly appointed Bavarian Minister of Justice, Winifried Bausback, initiated legislation to revise the statute-of-limitation law such that heirs to looted art could reclaim their familial property. Currently, the law is not automatically invoked, the defendant must expressly invoke the limitation in order to protect against the claim of the owner. The proposed legislation would install a two-pronged defense that the owner can employ to proceed with the requisition, despite the law's invocation. The first requirement would be that the property must have been lost in a legal sense. The second requirement would mandate that only the true possessor can rely on the statute, therefore, a bad faith possessor would not be able to invoke the statute and legal action can proceed. Such legislation would obviously aid in the return of looted works to their correct owner. 

Yet, while the status of the Bavarian Minister's legislative initiative is unknown, the District Court in Frankfurt recently handed down a decision that could have consequences for the Gurlitt case specifically, and other restitution cases, more generally. In Frankfurt, an heir of Robert Graetz, a Jewish textile manufacturer and art collector, brought a claim against the current owner of a Max Pechstein painting, which he believes Robert was required to forcefully sell prior his family's deportation to Auschwitz. The defendant invoked the statute-of-limitation and challenged this alleged provenance. The Frankfurt court ruled that the expired 30-year limitation took precedent over the need for an exacting provenance, thus the Graetz estate has no claim to the painting. This decision, in essence, upholds Germany's statute-of-limitation in regards to artworks.   

When asked about this recent decision, Marc Masurovsky, the co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP), said that this decision reflects a "traditional legal defense against restitution claims." However, he stresses that this decision should "in no way" prevent the drafting of an exacting provenance in such cases. He believes that this decision highlights a need for the "passage of stricter laws governing provenance," such adjustments may include setting "sufficient standards whereby objects with no provenance should not be introduced into the marketplace, or offered to museums." Instead, Masurovsky believes that such objects should, ideally, not be "traded, sold, bought, displayed, loaned, borrowed or donated." Yet, he acknowledges that this is "not even remotely possible to enforce," since most objects in the art market fall into these categories and the demand for a full provenance would kill the industry. Therefore, Masurovsky believes that new standards should be developed that "clearly define an acceptable provenance," in other words, outline what minimal criteria should be met in order for an object to be lawfully moved in the market. Masurovsky further believes that Germany, because of its history, "carries an unusual responsibility, an ethical burden if you will, to 'do what is right'" and initiate changes to its current laws. Currently, the German courts allow the statute-of-limitations to function as a "technical defense" or "convenient tool" which he believes allows defendants to "debunk and kill a claimant's request for restitution," as seen in the Graetz case. However, for Marc, all countries "regardless of their historical relationship with the Nazi/Fascist years, the Holocaust and WWII, should enact laws that protect victims of cultural plunder, that raise the ethical bar in the art market."  

Regarding the Gurlitt case specifically, Masurovsky confirms that the artworks discovered in Gurlitt's apartment are in the custody of the German government, yet, the entire collection was transferred to the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland in accordance with Gurlitt's last will. Gurlitt died on May 6, 2014 in Munich. However,  the special task force “Schwabinger Kunstfund”  processing the trove had not yet finished its restitution-based provenance research and so a compromise was made between the Kunst and the executors of Gurlitt's will. According to Masurovsky, any object deemed to be "clean" would be instantly transferred to Bern, while objects requiring additional research would remain with the German Task Force as they ascertain whether any evidence of plunder exists and if there is the possibility of identifying the plundered owners. Theoretically, this process is set to conclude in 2020, given the large number of works. This compromise is meant to ensure that only "clean" artworks end up in the Kunst. 


In accordance with the compromise, the Kunstmuseum Bern now owns the "clean" works, a reality that worries HARP. Since it is now the responsibility of the museum to conduct a more exacting provenance for these items, Marc argues that "how well Bern will do this job is pure conjecture." The fear, according to my interviews with Masurovsky is that un-restituted objects are indeed part of the hoard in Bern's possession, and their location in Switzerland, a country that "leaves no legal room for consideration of restitution for looted objects," will prevent the initiation of claims to the artworks. 

In sum, it appears that German courts are bowing to precedent in regards to restitution cases, allowing the statute-of-limitation to be used as a defense. Only time will tell if such precedent will be followed or ignored, in cases such as the Gurlitt case, as families continue to lay claim to what they believe has been wrongfully taken from them. 

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Editor’s postscript:  The Kunstmuseum Bern obtained exclusive jurisdiction over the 238 (arguably more significant) artworks that were seized in Gurlitt’s house in Salzburg (Aigen), Austria in February 2014. As the Germin remit does not extend to property held in Austria, these artworks have their own separate inventory and are the exclusive province of Bern regarding the research into their past ownership. ARCA hopes that these works will undergo the same moral and ethical due diligence required of the Munich grouping.

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* In 2017 Marc Masurovsky will be teaching provenance research training as part of ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, as well as a short course affiliated with ARCA's June conference. 

November 24, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection & Provenance Research: A Perspective from Marc Masurovsky, director of the Provenance Training Research Program

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA blog Editor

I sought out the perspective of Marc Masurovsky, director of the Provenance Research Training Program which will have a new session in Rome next month, on the Kunstmuseum Bern announcement regarding acceptance of the Gurlitt art bequest and its willingness to conduct research to determine if some works had been stolen during the Nazi-era (commonly accepted as 1933-1945).

Q: Today and agreement was reached that the Kunstmuseum Bern would conduct provenance research on the Gurlitt collection before moving the artworks from Germany to Switzerland. What is the process as you understand and what do you anticipate as the strengths and weaknesses?
MM: I thought Germany would handle the provenance. That's how I interpret most press reports from this morning. 
If this is correct, the research is being conducted by individuals hired by the German government under the auspices of the Gurlitt Task Force. 
Frankly, no one is certain about how the research is being conducted. If it were left to us, you'd have to make three distinct piles: auction acquisitions in the Reich, works de-accessioned from German State museums, and works acquired in occupied territories. Those piles lead you to different archives.  The most complex are the French records for works acquired in German-occupied France.  The fundamental weakness behind this process is its opacity and the refusal of the Germans to expand the scope of the research and reach out to those who know a thing or two about these types of losses.  From what we hear, there are only a handful of individuals covering the French archives.
Last but not least, the most complex items to research are the works on paper and especially prints and lithographs.  Who knows where those came from?  To ascertain whether or not they were looted, one would have to go through all files representing losses suffered by victims in France.  The task is staggeringly tedious and complex.

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. 

Gurlitt Art Collection: Kunstmuseum Bern accepts bequest from Cornelius Gurlitt

The Kunstmuseum Bern announced today in Berlin that it will accept the art collection from Cornelius Gurlitt. Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO, live tweeted (Ergo Sum @sauterne) during the conference: 
The Kunstmuseum Bern accepts the Gurlitt collection. This was decided by the Board of Trustees of the Art Museum.... Regarding the Gurlitt collection Schäublin says their own research centre at the Kunstmuseum Bern must be considered....  Schäublin on Gurlitt Collection: "On the threshold of the art museum is not stolen art".... Kunstmuseum pledges to fully investigate artwork restitution claims fully.... Central point of the agreement to accept Gurlitt's art collection.... Works of art looted or suspicious do not tread Swiss soil.... Berlin, Munich and Kunstmuseum Bern have signed an agreement on the management of Gurlitt's estate.... Schäublin agreement in accepting Gurlitt collection: Objects with suspicion of being Nazi-looted art will initially remain in Germany....  Bavarian Minister of Justice on the joint Gurlitt accord: "The agreement with the Kunstmuseum Bern is an important step in German history."...  Gurlitt case: The German Minister of Justice says Switzerland is the "right place" for the disputed collection....  Gurlitt press release concludes. Many questions being raised by attendees on state of task force investigation and limbo nazi loot objects.
Here are also two Swiss news outlets that covered the conference (held in German):

http://www.srf.ch/news/panorama/live-aus-berlin-kunstmuseum-bern-nimmt-gurlitt-erbe-an

http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/bern-museum-accepts-controversial-art-hoard/41129776

The artworks will remain in Germany while provenance experts study the collecting history of the paintings suspected to have been looted during the Nazi-era.

Here's the latest news from BBC on the Gurlitt art collection and the conference.

Here's a chronology from the German-English news source DW.

Here's a link to the Kunstmuseum's media release (in German).




Gurlitt Art Collection: An Interview with Art Recovery's Christopher Marinello on the eve of the Kunstmuseum's announcement on acceptance or rejection of the bequest by Cornelius Gurlitt

Christopher Marinello, founder of Art Recovery
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Sunday I spoke to Christopher Marinello -- who has presented on several occasions at ARCA's annual art crime conference -- and who is the founder of Art Recovery International.  I interviewed him on the eve of the anticipated decision of whether or not the Kunstmuseum in Bern will accept the art collection bequethed to them by Cornelius Gurlitt. The federal government of Germany, the Bavarian Ministry of Culture, and the Kunstmuseum are scheduled to hold a joint press conference on Monday, November 24, 2014 at 11:00 am CET in Berlin regarding the further handling of Cornelius Gurlitt estate.  Marinello represents the Rosenberg heirs seeking restitution of a Matisse painting from the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt, an action suspended when Gurlitt died and bequeathed the art in his possession to a Swiss museum.

Q: Monday morning the Kunstmuseum Bern will announce their decision to accept or reject the controversial Gurlitt collection. What do you think are some of the main issues they have had to consider and what will they try to address at the conference?

CM: I’m certain the Museum Board has considered the possible legal issues they may be facing as well as the cost involved in researching the group of paintings. Not to mention the publicity and potential reputational damage in being known as the Museum that houses the Gurlitt hoard.

Q: What is the position of your clients, the Rosenberg heirs, who have proved that Matisse was looted by the Nazis and yet are still waiting for the painting to be restituted?

CM: We are patiently waiting for the Museum to accept the Gurlitt bequest and honour their pledge to restitute any and all works deemed to have been looted by the Nazis.

Q: Could you speculate for a moment on why Cornelius Gurlitt picked the Bern museum? Did he have a relationship with them or was he just looking for an institution outside of Germany?

CM: There has been a lot of speculation on Gurlitt’s motives but it is clear, in my view, that he was looking to punish the German State for the treatment he received after his “collection” was seized.

Q: When Gurlitt was disposing of the art -- whom did he trust and do you anticipate further revelations about the collection?

CM: There will be a lot more revealed in the future on this topic. I don’t wish to comment further, if you don’t mind.

Q: What is the Gurlitt family's position regarding the collection -- is there a chance they can succeed in getting a part of the collection?

CM: The Gurlitt family has pledged privately to me, and publicly, to return the looted works to their rightful owners.

Q: How long of a process has this been for your clients and has it been caution that has slowed the restitution process?

CM: My clients have been waiting almost 75 years for the return of this picture and others. It has been over two years since this hoard was discovered by German authorities. I would say that this is a textbook example of how not to handle Nazi restitution cases. Caution or inane bureaucracy?

Q: Does the museum board have the authority to make binding restitution decisions once they take possession of the collection?

CM: Yes.

Q: What role do you anticipate that the Bavarian task force will have, if any, once the Gurlitt collection is accepted by the Bern museum?

CM: They may offer their assistance to the Kunstmuseum. We should hear more about this tomorrow.

Q: What kind of burden is placed on museums today in regard to Nazi-looted art in their collections?

CM: The Washington Principles and the ICOM code of ethics made it pretty clear what is expected of museums today. Review your collections. Conduct proper provenance research. Transparency has never been more important.

Q: What kind of assistance is available to museums regarding provenance research through organizations such as Art Recovery International or the Looted Art Commission?

CM: We offer our services at no cost to cultural institutions that are in need of assistance. Other organisations offer this type of service as well. Help is often available, all they need to do is ask.

Q: Is there a standard report accepted by ICOM to help clarify what is due diligence or satisfactory provenance on artworks in museums?

CM: There are standards set by ICOM and other organisations that museums can follow.

Q: As a lawyer and an art recovery specialist, what would you propose to expedite restitution?

CM: Generally speaking? The opening of archives, more transparency from museums in publishing their collections and their provenance, and more due diligence from every aspect of the art market. Genuine due diligence, not “optical” due diligence.

Q: What have been the lessons learned in the last year in regards to questions of Nazi-looted art in collections such as Gurlitt?

CM: 75 years later we are still facing the issue of Nazi looted art. Largely because the problem was never properly dealt with. Today, banking has become more regulated, the real estate industry is more transparent, yet the art world remains this one big secret. I have no doubt that there are more Cornelius Gurlitts out there. Public and Private collections must be more transparent and due diligence should be an absolute requirement as opposed to a 'best practice' suggestion for the well informed.

November 21, 2014

Editorial Essay on the Kunstmuseum Bern's Upcoming Decision on Whether to Accept the Gurlitt Collection

By Judge Arthur Tompkins

It appears that on Monday 24 November (or thereabouts) we will know whether the Kunstmuseum Bern will take on the Gurlitt collection. In an article in the New York Times on 20 November ("Nazi-Era Art Collection Appears to Find a Home" by Melissa Eddy), a number of sources are cited as expressing confidence that the Kunstmuseum will indeed accept Cornelius Gurlitt’s unexpected bequest made public at the time of his death in May this year: 
“Sources ... said it was likely that the board members [of the Kunstmuseum Bern] would gather in Switzerland on Saturday to decide on Mr Gurlitt’s gift. Stuart E. Eizenstadt ... now special adviser on Holocaust issues to Secretary of State John Kerry, said Thursday that it was his understanding that the museum would accept the offer.”
Image Credit www.worldjewishcongress.org
The magnitude of the challenges that will come with the collection should not be underestimated.  As the NYT article notes, many of the works are likely to be “badly in need of restoration”, and furthermore the resources required to, as the Kunstmuseum Bern will most likely have to do, determine the provenance of each item in the collection, will be significant.

In an open letter I sent to the Trustees of the Kunstmuseum Bern back in June published on ARCA’s Blog here where I suggested:
What should happen, and immediately after the acceptance of the inheritance, is the creation by the Kunstmuseum Bern of an independent, well-resourced international tribunal to determine the fate of each and every one of the many art works. The tribunal itself should consist of international jurists and others with a range of art-crime related skills, assisted by a staff of independent provenance researchers, cataloguers, art and general historians, claimant advocates, and dispute resolution specialists.

After identifying each art work, promulgating identifying and other characteristics widely, and proactively inviting and assisting claimant contact with the tribunal, the tribunal should resolve the fate of each art work by employing first a range of appropriate dispute resolution processes so as to reach an agreed, just and fair solution. Failing agreement, the tribunal should determine each individual case by giving due weight and recognition both to the relevant legal factors, but also and crucially to the moral aspects as well.

A transparent and just process as outlined would avoid heaping future injustice on the top of past wrongs. It would propel the Kunstmuseum Bern to the forefront of efforts to undo some of the great harms done 70 years ago, amid the chaos and confusion of war.
The NYT article quotes similar sentiments as being expressed by an attorney for Mr David Toren, an 89-year-old descendant of the Jewish industrialist David Friedmann, who has a strong claim to Max Liebermann's "Two Riders on the Beach,":
“ ... this presents a real opportunity for the museum to raise its international profile by doing the right thing with regard to the portion of the collection that was stolen by the Nazis.”
There is clearly more to come on this continuing story early next week.

Read the full New York Times article here.

Gurlitt Art Collection: Swissinfo.ch anticipates Bern museum will accept collection

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Michèle Laird for Swissinfo.ch in "The Gurlitt art collection no one -- and everyone -- wants" reported November 20:
Bern’s Museum of Fine Arts had planned to announce on November 26 whether it will accept the collection. It has now said the announcement will happen two days earlier - and in Berlin. The development supports the rumour that the museum will accept the collection, but leave it in Germany to allow for provenance research to be completed and potential claims to be addressed.
ARCA conference presenter Nicholas O'Donnell is quoted by Laird:
US litigation lawyer, Nicholas O’Donnell, who specialises in wartime restitution claims and produces Art Law Report, has been following the case closely. He believes that the Bern museum will accept the gift, but would likely request some kind of indemnification from Germany to face either the expense of receiving the collection, or restitution costs. “Germany must be considering the possibility just to get rid of the problem,” he told swissinfo.ch.
Laird quotes another ARCA conference presenter, Christopher Marinello, founder of Art Recovery International, on what 'masterpieces' may be restituted:
One such piece is the Matisse painting, considered to be one of the finest of the collection. Counsel to the Rosenberg heirs, the founder and director of Art Recovery International, Christopher Marinello and his team immediately set the wheels in motion to recover the painting when its existence became known. 
He joins the chorus of criticism against the “insensitive” task force, but praises the individual provenance researchers. In his opinion, they are excellent, but overwhelmed. “You can put together the best football team in the world, but without appropriate coaching and management support, it’s going to be difficult to win a match." 
Provenance research, Matthias Henkel of the German task force reminded swissinfo.ch during an initial exchange, is tremendously difficult and takes more time than anyone can imagine. It is now fairly certain that the one-year deadline to clarify the Gurlitt estate will not be met. 
According to Marinello, the Gurlitt bequest is a great opportunity for a Swiss institution to take the lead and make up for Germany’s deficiencies in this case. “I would urge the Museum of Fine Arts to accept the Gurlitt bequest and resolve the issues over the Nazi-looted works of art in accordance with the Washington Principles,” he stated.   

July 13, 2014

Newsweek reports on Art Crime Symposium held in New York in June

In the Newsweek article, "Outgunned in the Search for Stolen Art", Kris Hollington reports on the June symposium organized by Christopher Marinello, founder of Art Recovery International, at New York University. Hollington discusses restitution of Nazi-looted art and fakes and forgeries.

Mr. Marinello spoke on the Gurlitt case in Amelia last month.

The NYU symposium was also Tweeted.

July 3, 2014

"The Gurlitt Case -- An Inside View From Christopher A. Marinello, Lawyer and Representative for the Heirs of Paul Rosenberg" presented at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference on June 28

Matisse, Femme Assise,
Paul Rosenberg Archive
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Amelia, Umbria -- Following Duncan Chappell and Saskia Hufnagel’s analysis of the legal issues involved in the controversy over the art collection previously in possession of the now deceased Cornelius Gurlitt, Christopher A. Marinello, a lawyer and the founder of Art Recovery International, spoke on representing the heirs of Paul Rosenberg in their efforts to recover Henri Matisse’s painting Femme Assise found in Mr. Gurlitt's Munich apartment and looted from Paul Rosenberg by the Nazis in 1940 (see information regarding the Task Force's decision here).

Chris Marinello discussed the company’s new Art Claim Database, which he said aims to become the world’s largest and technologically advanced private database of stolen, looted, and otherwise tainted works of art.  Based in London, Marinello said he has recovered and resolved title disputes involving over $350 million worth of artwork and offers free services to law enforcement, governments, and non-profit museums.

The heirs of Paul Rosenberg are still searching for 59 of the 400 paintings that were looted from the Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris which included works by Picasso, Matisse, and Braque, all close friends of the Jewish dealer. [Information on The Paul Rosenberg Archives housed at The Museum of Modern Art in New York is available here. The family business moved from selling antiques in the late 19th century to Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works.]

Christopher Marinello in Amelia
Marinello's presentation included details of events after news of the Gurlitt "trove" was released to the public by Focus Magazine in November 2013. Marinello explained how his team of researchers quickly assembled a comprehensive analysis of the Rosenberg claim for the Matisse painting with supporting documentation after an image of Femme Assise appeared in the magazine.

Marinello criticized German authorities in their handling of this most recent discovery of long lost Nazi looted artwork but praised the efforts of the individual researchers who make up the “Task Force” faced with the herculean task of reviewing the provenance of the Gurlitt pictures.  
  
Despite the fact that German law offered little or no protection to his clients and other heirs of Holocaust claimants, Marinello explained that some of his strategy in the Gurlitt matter included direct contact with Cornelius Gurlitt himself. Marinello said that throughout the discussions that took place with Mr. Gurlitt’s lawyers, he refused to accept anything other that unconditional restitution of the looted Matisse. Marinello said that an unconditional release and restitution agreement negotiated with Mr. Gurlitt’s lawyers in late March was put on hold after an unusual series of events interfered with the execution of that agreement. The upheaval in Gurlitt’s legal team and the Task Force’s consideration of a competing, but ultimately fraudulent claim to the Rosenberg Matisse delayed matters long enough to see the death of the Cornelius Gurlitt, Marinello explained.

In an apparent snub of Bavarian officials, Marinello said, Gurlitt left his pictures to the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland which has publicly pledged to return all looted works of art to their rightful owners.

Without revealing his current strategy, Marinello explained that he has been in contact with the museum in Bern and the German Probate Court and is confident that the Matisse will be restituted to the Rosenberg heirs in the next few months.

A three-time returning speaker at ARCA, Chris thanked conference organizers for developing a program that allows for spirited intellectual debate of important cultural property issues in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Gurlitt Art Collection: Task force declares Matisse work was stolen from Paul Rosenberg and should be returned to his heirs by the heirs of Cornelius Gurlitt in accordance with the principles of the Washington Declaration

Julia Michalska reported for The Art Newspaper on June 11 in "Matisse painting in Gurlitt Hoard was Nazi loot, researchers find" that the painting by Henri Matisse titled Femme Assise (1921) had likely once belonged to Paul Rosenberg, a Jewish art dealer in Paris until the Nazi Occupation in 1940:
Ingeborg Berggreen Merkel, the head of the task force, said in a press statement released today: “Even though it could not be documented with absolute certainty how the work came into [Cornelius Gurlitt’s father] Hildebrand Gurlitt’s possession, the task force has concluded that the work is Nazi loot and was taken from its rightful owner Paul Rosenberg.” Merkel added that the final decision on what will happen to the painting “lies in the hands of the heirs of Cornelius Gurlitt, who, shortly before his death, committed himself to returning looted works in line with the Washington Principles. This commitment also binds his heirs”.
According to the Lost Art Internet Database website, the "Schwabing Art Trove" (named after the neighborhood where Cornelius Gurlitt resided) Task Force is examining the ownership of 590 works that may have been "confiscated" by the Nazis.

Here's a link to the the press release issued in German.

For further information on the Gurlitt case, the Central Registry of Information on Looted Cultural Property (1933-1945) you may go here on their website.

June 17, 2014

ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference to open June 28th with panel highlighting "Recent US and EU Investigations"

The 2014 ARCA Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference will open with:

The Fall of the House of Knoedler: Fakes, Deception and Naiveté
Presenter: James C Moore, Esquire, Arbitrator and mediator of commercial disputes; Formerly, partner and trial lawyer with large New York law firm and president of New York State Bar Association

Hello Dalí: Anatomy of a Modern Day Art Theft Investigation
Presenter: Jordan Arnold, Esquire, K2 Intelligence; Former Assistant District Attorney and Head, Financial Intelligence Unit, New York County District Attorney’s Office

The Gurlitt Case: German and international responses to the legal and ethical questions to ownership rights in looting cases
Presenters: Duncan Chappell, PhD Lawyer and Criminologist, Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney and Saskia Hufnagel, PhD Lecturer in Criminal Law; Queen Mary University of London Rechtsanwalt – Fachanwalt Strafrecht, Hufnagel und Partner

The Gurlitt Case: An Inside View From Christopher A. Marinello, Lawyer and Representative for the Heirs of Paul Rosenberg
Presenter: Christopher A. Marinello, Esq Director and Founder, Art Recovery International

June 4, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection: An open letter to the Trustees of the Kunstmuseum Bern, Hodlerstrasse 8–12 CH-3000 Bern 7, Switzerland

by Judge Arthur Tompkins*

As the trustees of the Kuntsmuseum in Bern, you have an sudden, unique and unforeseen opportunity, as you consider whether or not to accept the unexpected inheritance from Herr Cornelius Gurlitt, to avoid and indeed remedy the numerous mistakes made by the German federal and state authorities as they dealt with the hoard of artworks hidden by Herr Gurlittfor many decades, in his apartment and elsewhere.

After the news of the existence of Herr Gurlitt’s hoard broke in November 2013, stonewalling and bluster and a dismissively bureaucratic attitude were all on display, until the belated acknowledgement that this was not just another local tax evasion case. The release of details of the art works continued to be frustratingly slow and incomplete, even after the multinational Task Force to investigate the provenance of the art works was announced by the German Government. Then there was the deal negotiated between Mr Gurlitt’s legal guardian, his defense counsel and the Bavarian authorities just before Herr Gurlitt’s death, “to allow provenance research on a voluntary basis once the works are released from police custody,” but including a self-imposed and unrealistic one-year deadline.

The confusion and uncertainty left behind by Herr Gurlitt is not a German, or indeed a Swiss, tangle to unravel. It is unavoidably an international one. I urge the Trustees to accept this inheritance, with the clear-headed and sure acceptance that this extraordinary and storied collection of art works brings with it great challenges. These are challenges that should be embraced, and viewed as an opportunity to right great wrongs.

What should happen, and immediately after the acceptance of the inheritance, is the creation by the museum of an independent, well-resourced international tribunal to determine the fate of each and every one of the many art works. The tribunal itself should consist of international jurists and others with a range of art-crime related skills, assisted by a staff of independent provenance researchers, cataloguers, art and general historians, claimant advocates, and dispute resolution specialists.

After identifying each art work, promulgating identifying and other characteristics widely, and proactively inviting and assisting claimant contact with the tribunal, the tribunal should resolve the fate of each art work by employing first a range of appropriate dispute resolution processes so as to reach an agreed, just and fair solution. Failing agreement, the tribunal should determine each individual case by giving due weight and recognition both to the relevant legal factors, but also and crucially to the moral aspects as well.

A transparent and just process as outlined would avoid heaping future injustice on the top of past wrongs. It would propel the Kunstmuseum in Bern to the forefront of efforts to undo some of the great harm done 70 years ago, amid the chaos and confusion of war.

* Judge Arthur Tompkins is a New Zealand Judge. He teaches Art in War each year as part of the Postgraduate Certificate in Art Crimes Studies offered by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, in Umbria, Italy.

June 3, 2014

The Gurlitt Collection: Kunstmuseum Bern will proceed with assessment as to whether or not to accept their inheritance

The Swiss museum Cornelius Gurlitt bequeathed his paintings will begin the process of deciding whether or not to accept the inheritance, they announced in a press release today:
On May 26, 2014, the board of trustees of the Kunstmuseum Bern met for the first time in a special session to examine the situation in regard to Mr Cornelius Gurlitt naming the Kunstmuseum Bern as his unrestricted sole heir. The will has not been opened yet; once this is the case, the museum will have a deadline of six months in which it must decide on whether it will accept the inheritance. In this period the Kunstmuseum Bern will make an assessment of the situation by collecting as much material containing relevant information as possible. Thus the Kunstmuseum Bern does not yet have an inventory at its disposal, and it has not been able to inspect the art collection. On the occasion of a visit to Munich, the president of the board of trustees and the director communicated with the authorities there. The political authorities in Switzerland are being kept informed on a regular basis. It has been decided that the Kunstmuseum Bern will seek legal assistance; the name of our legal advisor will be made known publicly when he or she has been definitively appointed. The Kunstmuseum Bern will notify the media when relevant new information is available, at the earliest at the beginning of July.

May 7, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection: Cornelius Gurlitt, 81, dies following convalescing from heart surgery; legal counsel announces end of investigation

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Today legal counsel for Cornelius Gurlitt announced the death of their client -- and the end of the investigation -- on the website created a few months ago in defense of allegations that paintings belonging to the 81-year-old had been stolen from Jewish families by the Nazis. According to Gurlitt.info, Herr Gurlitt had been in the care of a doctor following heart surgery when he requested that he be able to return to his apartment in Schwabing:
With the death of Cornelius Gurlitt end both the court-ordered care, as well as the investigation. Our sympathy goes to the family of the deceased.
Berlin's Focus Magazine reported in early November that two years ago Bavarian customs (Bayerische Zollfahnder) discovered 1,500 works by artists such as Picasso, Chagall and Matisse -- believed to have been confiscated during the Third Reich -- amongst the trash in the apartment of 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of art historian and dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt (images of the article can be found here and here). The granddaughter of Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg told CNN she had just heard about the discovering of reputedly stolen art. The New York Times reported on the 'uproar in the art world.' Holocaust-looted art restitution experts were interviewed as to the significance of the discovery. Prosecutors held a press conference to explain the case. Lootedart.com published information obtained when Hildebrand Gurlitt was interviewed by the Allies after WWII. NPR did a segment on the questions raised by the Gurlitt art collection. Reuters described Cornelius Gurlitt as a tragic figure. Germany published some of the art collection online, set up a committee to investigate claims, and agreed to publicize the works. Cornelius Gurlitt, described as a mysterious recluse, is found shopping near his apartment. Curlitt's art collection, flagged because of the association with Hildebrand Gurlitt, is classified under an art fund named after the neighborhood in which the art was discovered in Munich. Gurlitt's artworks are posted on the Lost Art Internet Database. De Spiegel describes the 'Phantom Collector'. Cornelius Gurlitt has first interview. A 1955 essay by Hildebrand Gurlitt on his art collection is dug up. Maybe art will be returned to Cornelius Gurlitt. About that empathy. 'Dirty little secret'. Legal counsel retained. Restitution plans. Cornelius agrees to provenance research and his collection is returned.

March 28, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection: Cornelius Gurlitt's legal counsel announces restitution plans

On March 26, Cornelius Gurlitt's legal counsel announced in a press release his client's plans to return "stolen" works to claimants [boldface and italics added by ARCAblog editor]:
Salzburg portion of the Cornelius Gurlitt collection is larger than at first thought - 238 works of art have been secured - first work justifiably suspected of being Nazi-looted art about to be returned - attorney Dr. Hannes Hartung discharged 
Munich/Salzburg, March 26, 2014. The Salzburg portion of the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt is more extensive than at first thought. It encompasses 238 works of art, including 39 oil paintings. 
Among the 39 oil paintings from the Salzburg portion of the collection, seven are by landscape painter Louis Gurlitt, Cornelius Gurlitt's grandfather, who died as long ago as 1897. Other oil paintings and watercolors were painted by artists including Monet, Corot, Renoir, Manet, Courbet, Pissaro, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Liebermann, Cézanne, and Nolde. However, by far the largest portion of the Salzburg collection consists of drawings (by artists including Picasso and Munch). The Salzburg collection, which has since been removed from Cornelius Gurlitt's Salzburg home, also includes silver vessels, ceramic bowls, and bronze, marble, and iron sculptures (including by Rodin). All works of art are being stored in a secure location and where required are currently being professionally processed and accurately documented by restorers. 
As a next step in dealing with the Salzburg portion of the Gurlitt collection, renowned international experts will be hired to conduct provenance research in order to conclusively establish the origin of the paintings. 
"If we should succeed with this task, we will continue to pursue this approach on our own initiative. One thing is certain: we will present the results of our research to the public so that they can be verified and any claimants can come forward," explains Christoph Edel, Cornelius Gurlitt's legal guardian. 
Additional inspections of the Salzburg house led to the discovery of additional works of art 
During the inspection of the house in Salzburg on February 10, 2014, with the approval of Cornelius Gurlitt, more than 60 works were located and brought to a secure location to prevent the possibility of burglary and theft at the unoccupied house. Most of these works are oil paintings, some of them quite large. In later visits to the house on February 24 and 28, 2014, above all for the purpose of removing bulky and worthless items from both levels, a number of artworks were found in a previously inaccessible portion of the old house and were subsequently removed. These, too, were brought to the secure warehouse where the other works are already being stored. 
First work from Schwabing portion of the collection about to be returned 
"If the works in Salzburg or Schwabing should be justifiably suspected of being Nazi-looted art, please give them back to their Jewish owners." This is what Cornelius Gurlitt instructed his court-appointed guardian, Christoph Edel, on one of his recent visits to Cornelius Gurlitt. "Let there be no doubt that we will carry out the instructions of our client. We are about to return a work from the Schwabing portion of the collection that is justifiably suspected of being looted art. Discussions with other claimants have been constructive as well, and we expect to be returning additional works in the coming weeks," said attorney Christoph Edel. "Moreover, we are currently working on a restitution policy based on the Washington principles that we will rely on in the future as a reasonable and uniform basis for negotiating with claimants. We will apply it just as consistently in cases that likely involve looted art as in those cases that are less clear or not clear at all," says Christoph Edel. "But we would like to reiterate once more that in our opinion only a small percentage of the Gurlitt collection is suspected of being looted art. At the same time, we appeal to museums and the public sector in Germany to follow our example." 
Dr. Hannes Hartung discharged Attorney Dr. Hannes Hartung was discharged from his duties as Gurlitt's representative with effect from today. To date, he was responsible for the art law aspects of the Gurlitt case and also conducted talks with claimants. Potential claimants are kindly asked to address Mr Edel's office for the time being.

March 2, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection: ARCA Lecturer Dick Ellis interviewed by "Voice of Russia" about the general issues of art restitution

Richard Ellis, retired Scotland Yard detective
Voice of Russia features an exclusive interview with ARCA Lecturer Richard Ellis in "Holocaust victims' heirs to reclaim Nazi-looted artwork if Gurlitt bill passed" (February 28, 2013):
An act allowing the heirs of Holocaust victims get more powerful leverage to claim their property, i.e. the works of art looted by the Nazis, is being debated by Bavarian legislature.The bill is named after Cornelius Gurliit - a Munich pensioner and owner of a spectacular collection of modernist paintings, drawings and watercolors. The Art Management Group and former Head of the Art and Antiques Union of Scotland Yard Richard Ellis and Gurlitt’s representative Stephan Holzinger explained to the Voice of Russia the legal aspects of the intricate "treasure hunt".
Mr. Ellis, who is not involved in the Gurlitt case according to the article, 'exclusively told the Voice of Russia that even if Germany will change its laws considering the looted art, the Gurlitt collection will remain out of legal prosecution.'

You can read the interview here.

February 22, 2014

The Gurlitt Art Collection: Cornelius Gurlitt has retained legal counsel who have established a website on the case involving the seizure and claims over the "Nazi treasure"

In early November, the weekly German magazine Focus reported that Bavarian authorities had custody of value art collection owned by Cornelius Gurlitt whose father Hildebrand had been an art dealer to the Nazis. More than two months later, Mr. Gurlitt obtained legal counsel, Tido Park and Derek Setz, who have published a website presenting information about the Gurlitt Collection.

The website's chronology section details how a check of Cornelius Gurlitt on a train by German custom officials in September 2010 led to a search warrant a year later and the seizure in February 2012 of Gurlitt's art collection of 1,406 items from his residence in Munich. After Focus published the news of this "Nazi treasure", various government agencies initiated the process of publicizing the works amidst claims of theft. In December, a Munich court appointed a custodian, Chirstoph Edel, for Gurlitt. In January, Gurlitt's legal counsel filed 'a criminal complaint with the chief public prosecutor's office in Munich for breach of official secrecy. The main reason for the complaint was the publication of photographs of Gurlitt's apartment being searched and of other confidential details from the investigation files.' In February, more than 60 artworks were seized from Gurlitt's residence in Salzburg 'and were then insured and transported to a safe place at Mr. Gurlitt's request and at the suggestion and instigation of Christoph Edel – the court-appointed preliminary custodian – together with attorney Dr. Hannes Hartung and the professional assistance of art experts and conservators.' On Valentine's Day:
Professor Tido Park and Derek Setz, the attorneys defending Cornelius Gurlitt in his criminal lawsuit, filed an appeal with the Augsburg local court on February 14 this year against the search warrant and seizure order issued by the Augsburg local court on September 23, 2011 regarding the Schwabing part of the Gurlitt collection.
Another section on the Gurlitt Collection website, written by Munich lawyer Dr. Hannes Hartung, discusses the "Structure of the Collection of Dr. Hildebrant Gurlitt" from Gurlitt's role 'as one of the most important dealers in the German Reich' who 'acquired'
works for the Führermuseum planned by Hitler in Linz, Austria. In the same year, Gurlitt purchased a very large quantity of works that had formerly been Reich property from the German Reich and that as “degenerate” art had been confiscated from German museums. After the totalitarian “integration” process (Gleichschaltung), the German Reich saw no difference, both practically and legally, between national, regional, and local governments as we have today in our federal structure. 
The works originally came from the property of the German Reich and were legally acquired by Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt by way of purchase or trade. The collection of Cornelius Gurlitt confiscated in Schwabing now includes about 380 of these artwork.
Hildebrand Gurlitt’s avid acquisition activities, among other things motivated by the desire to save art labeled as degenerate from its destruction, is documented in the so-called Fischer List (see http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/e/entartete-kunst/). This list shows that Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt legally acquired many important works from former German Reich property. In many instances the works would have been destroyed if Dr. Gurlitt had not acquired them at bargain prices. The art that had been defamed as “degenerate” can therefore be considered the art historical focus of the Gurlitt collection. 
Private property of the Gurlitt family 
A large part of the artworks confiscated by the public prosecutors also includes works from the private collection of the Gurlitt family. Cornelius Gurlitt’s family is a major dynasty of German art historians. Some 330 works were already part of the family’s private collection before 1933 and are meant to be returned to their rightful owner, Cornelius Gurlitt, in the near future. 
“Looted art 
When the Nazis persecuted what they considered “degenerate” art, their target was the art itself and not its owners. Only in the case of looted art were the cultural assets bought up for far less than they were worth (compulsory sale), dispossessed, or confiscated. Only very few works in the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt are suspected of being looted art. 
Another 590 works are the solely property of Cornelius Gurlitt. Currently (as of February 14, 2014) only four claimants assert that the Gurlitt collection contains works that may have once been appropriated from Jewish owners in the context of Nazi persecution. Stated differently, the 1,280 seized works that are the property of Cornelius Gurlitt have attracted only four claimants who demand the return of so-called looted art from Cornelius Gurlitt. Specifically, the claimants are the Rosenberg, Friedmann, Glaser, and Littmann heirs.

December 6, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: The Economist publishes letter from Judge Tompkins on "Hildebrand Gurlitt's secret"

Here's a Letter published in The Economist (December 7, 2013; from the print edition):
Dealing with stolen art
* SIR – The discovery of a treasure trove of so-called “degenerate” art in a Munich flat triggers many challenges for Germany, not the least of which is, what to do with all these unique art works (“Hildebrand Gurlitt’s secret”, November 9th)? If many of the works were stolen from their original owners around 70 or so years ago then they should be returned to the heirs of those same dispossessed owners.
Getting close to doing that is the great challenge. Undoing the harm of the theft of any work of art, even more so when the theft was part of the evil of the Nazi regime, is a uniquely international problem. It demands both an international but also a creative answer. What is needed is, in short, an adhoc International Art Crime Tribunal. Such a tribunal would be assisted by art historians, provenance researchers, advocates to assist the commission and, crucially, claimant advocates and advisers to work with claimants so that they can properly and effectively present their claims. By this means the tribunal could create the kind of independent, neutral ground necessary for the lasting resolution of the disputes that will inevitably arise concerning the stolen art.
The tribunal should be entrusted with the task of resolving the fate of each work of art, not only by deciding the historical and legal claims to it, but also by explicitly evaluating, and giving equal weight to, the moral claim of the claimant. This is crucial. In the past claims to art looted in wartime have been undermined or destroyed by insufficient legal evidence to establish prior ownership, even though the moral claim for return of looted art is clear.
None of this is new. Precedents for all these aspects of the proposed tribunal exist, and have in a variety of settings and circumstances been used during recent decades. The challenges presented by these pictures provide a rare chance to bring together many of the valuable lessons learned over the long years of hard-won, accumulated experience gained in trying to undo the art crimes of the Nazis.
JUDGE ARTHUR TOMPKINS
Trustee and faculty member of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art
Hamilton, New Zealand