Swiss museum that inherited Gurlitt trove selling properties

Swiss museum that inherited Gurlitt trove selling properties

Kunstmuseum Bern working to restore any Nazi-looted items to Jewish heirs, seeking to raise cash to cover cost of maintaining collection

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)

The Swiss museum that inherited German collector Cornelius Gurlitt’s art trove is selling an apartment and a house that were part of the legacy to help cover costs it incurred.

The Kunstmuseum Bern’s deputy director, Marcel Bruelhart, on Tuesday confirmed a report Tuesday in the Berner Zeitung newspaper that it is selling Gurlitt’s apartment in Munich and house in Salzburg, Austria.

A German government-backed foundation and the Bern museum are working to ensure that any pieces looted by the Nazis before making their way into Gurlitt’s collection are returned to Jewish owners’ heirs.

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

His will designated the 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.

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.

Some art works could ultimately be sold “if necessary,” Bruelhart wrote in an emailed response to questions. The museum “does not want to benefit financially from the inheritance, but also does not want to be burdened by it,” he said.

Authorities stumbled on Gurlitt’s collection while investigating a tax case in 2012. The collector inherited works from his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who traded in works confiscated by the Nazis.

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