German museum shows Nazi-looted artwork from recluse’s trove
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German museum shows Nazi-looted artwork from recluse’s trove

Collection of paintings confiscated from Jews and found in home of Cornelius Gurlitt to be exhibited simultaneously in Bonn, Bern

Museum of Fine Arts (Kunstmuseum) in Bern, May 8, 2014. (AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI)
Museum of Fine Arts (Kunstmuseum) in Bern, May 8, 2014. (AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI)

BERLIN — A small number of Nazi-era artwork from a reclusive German collector’s trove has been presented in Bonn in preparation for a wider exhibition.

News agency dpa reported that the German city’s Bundeskunsthalle on Tuesday previewed works by Monet, Maillol, Boucher and Duerer and a marble statue by Rodin.

Switzerland’s Kunstmuseum Bern plans to show several other pieces from the Cornelius Gurlitt collection Friday, and the two museums will open simultaneous exhibitions of hundreds of works in November.

Gurlitt died in 2014, months after German authorities announced they had seized the art trove at his Munich apartment. He had kept more than 1,200 works in Munich and another 250 in Salzburg, Austria.

His will designated the German museum as sole heir. A legal battle ensued when a cousin of Gurlitt, Uta Werner, challenged the testament on the grounds that Gurlitt wasn’t mentally fit when he wrote it shortly before his death — a case rejected in December by a Munich court.

Cornelius Gurlitt, on the cover of Der Spiegel, November 2013. (Screen capture/YouTube).
Cornelius Gurlitt, on the cover of Der Spiegel, November 2013. (Screen capture/YouTube).

Earlier this month, the Kunstmuseum announced that it was selling an apartment and a house that were part of the legacy to help pay off debts incurred.

Further costs could still arise from a separate case involving a former Gurlitt lawyer who is seeking the payment of fees, Bruelhart said, though the museum won a first round in court.

Experts have identified dozens of works in Gurlitt’s collection that were likely looted by the Nazis, though they also ruled out several hundred more. So far, four works have been handed over to rightful owners — most recently, a Camille Pissarro painting restituted last month by Germany’s culture minister.

Gurlitt’s father was one of four art dealers during the Third Reich tasked by the Nazis with selling art stolen from Jews or confiscated as “degenerate” works.

Although German authorities discovered the collection during a tax probe in 2012, they kept it under wraps for more than a year until it came to light in a magazine article.

Gurlitt struck an agreement with the German government in April 2014, just a month before his death, stipulating that any works that were plundered by the Nazis would be returned to their rightful owners and the Swiss museum said it would honor that wish.

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