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May 7, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection: Cornelius Gurlitt's wishes regarding "degenerate art" in his collection

The website defending Cornelius Gurlitt,, provides the art collector's position which includes his stated belief that:
he had inherited a collection from his father that predominantly consisted of so-called degenerate art from former German Reich property in public collections and museums. Cornelius Gurlitt was not aware that his collection also includes a few works that today can be qualified as looted art. After the rightful return of the entire collection by the Augsburg public prosecutors and the customs authorities, he is prepared to review and arrive at fair solutions together with the claimants for those works that are suspected of being looted art in such instances where qualified, documented, and justified claims for their return are asserted by heirs of Jewish of persecution and where morally compelling grounds exist. This voluntary, morally driven commitment on the part of Cornelius Gurlitt applies to only very few works in the collection from the “Schwabing art discovery,” according to current information at most 3% of the 1,280 confiscated works. 
Several German museums have already made offers to repurchase the works in the collection considered “degenerate” art. Cornelius Gurlitt is quite willing to carefully consider such offers for repurchase, providing they correspond with the market value of the works in question and the legal and factual situation. This approach is in keeping with the historic truth that Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt legally acquired by way of purchase or trade from the German Reich the works that had been confiscated as “degenerate” art. Due to his father’s secured acquisition of title to the “degenerate” art, no alternatives other than repurchase through German museums come under consideration. Cornelius Gurlitt will gladly review appropriate repurchase offers made by German museums for “degenerate” art.
Cynthia Saltzman discussed the lack of remedies for German museums who had their collections raided by the Nazis in her book, Portrait of Dr. Gachet: The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece (Viking, 1998). For example, the Nazis forcibly took "Dr. Gachet from a city museum in Frankfurt and years later, when the portrait reappeared at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Frankfurt officials found out that they had no legal claim to recover their painting (the book was reviewed in The New York Times here and includes specific details about the painting's journey).