Showing posts with label Kunstmuseum Bern. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kunstmuseum Bern. Show all posts

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. 

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

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.   

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 8, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection: Switzerland's Kunstmuseum Bern announces that Cornelius Gurlitt willed his art to them; art restitution expert Marc Masurovsky weighs in

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Although Cornelius Gurlitt's legal team has not posted on its website news of the disposition of their client's art collecting following his death yesterday, Switzerland's Kunstmuseum Bern (Museum of Fine Arts Bern) issued this media release:
Today, May 7, 2014, Kunstmuseum Bern was informed by Mr Christoph Edel, lawyer to Mr Cornelius Gurlitt, who died yesterday, May 6, 2014, by telephone and in writing that Mr Cornelius Gurlitt has appointed the private-law foundation Kunstmuseum Bern his unrestricted and unfettered sole heir. Despite speculation in the media that Mr Gurlitt had bequeathed his collection to an art institution outside Germany, the news came like a bolt from the blue, since at no time has Mr Gurlitt had any connection with Kunstmuseum Bern. The Board of Trustees and Directors of Kunstmuseum Bern are surprised and delighted, but at the same time do not wish to conceal the fact that this magnificent bequest brings with it a considerable burden of responsibility and a wealth of questions of the most difficult and sensitive kind, and questions in particular of a legal and ethical nature. They will not be in a position to issue a more detailed statement before first consulting the relevant files and making contact with the appropriate authorities.
Kunstmuseum Bern describes itself as the oldest art museum in Switzerland with a permanent collection. Videos highlighting the collection include works by Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Amedeo Modigliani, Gustave Courbet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and Pablo Picasso. The museum's website does not included any information about provenance or collecting history for works of art in its collection.

I asked Marc Masurovsky, an art historian and an expert on Nazi-era looted art and restitution, for his comment on the news that Cornelius Gurlitt has willed his collection to the fine art museum in Switzerland; this is his response via email:
The will still has to go through probate, if I am not mistaken. Then, one might ask: can the German authorities challenge its authenticity? its validity? As for the claimants, Switzerland is as inhospitable a place where one wishes to gain satisfaction as Germany. Look at what Mr. Monteagle has to go through to try and get his Constable painting back from La Chaux-de-Fond. Civil law covers claims and they rest in part on the good faith of the recent acquirer or possessor of the work in question. Does the fact that the Kunstmuseum is aware through international publicity of the dubious origins of some of the works in the Gurlitt collection grounds for challenging its good faith? Does this concept also apply to donations from people one does not know? Can the Bern Kunstmuseum reject the gift since it is definitely a poison pill? I certainly do not have the answers. But I do have tons of questions, much like everyone else.
In The New York Times, Doreen Carvajal reports in "Wooing the Public to Recover Art" (March 18, 2014) that Alain Monteagle is resorting to public referendums in his attempt to recover the John Constable painting, "Deadham from Langham", which he claims was taken from his family during World War II:
Swiss museum officials do not dispute that the painting was looted — they acknowledge the fact on a plaque below it. But they say that the museum accepted it in good faith, and that Swiss law does not require restitution in such circumstances. So Mr. Monteagle and his relatives have taken to the soapbox. They are using the local Swiss system of popular referendums — which require the signatures of at least 10 percent of registered voters, 2,500 in this case — to bring the issue before elected officials, since the museum is owned by the town. And they are taking the early, tentative steps required to force the local legislature to put an issue to a vote; if the legislature were to approve, more signatures could be gathered for a communitywide vote.