A Swiss museum has said it will accept a German recluse’s bequest of a spectacular trove of more than 1,000 artworks hoarded during the Nazi era.
The decision, announced on Monday at a news conference in Berlin, covers priceless paintings and sketches by Picasso, Monet, Chagall and other masters that were discovered by chance in 2012 in the Munich flat of Cornelius Gurlitt.
Christoph Schaeublin, president of the board of trustees at the the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern, has pledged to work with German authorities to ensure that “all looted art in the collection is returned” to its rightful owners, according to a report in the AFP news agency.
I think this is a chance to show people right before their very eyes how problematic the handling of art and artworks after the war was.
Gurlitt, who died last May at the age of 81, was the son of an art dealer tasked by Adolf Hitler to help plunder great works from museums and Jewish collectors, many of whom died in the gas chambers.
More than 1,200 works were discovered in Gurlitt’s Munich flat, while another 300 were discovered in a home he owned in Salzburg.
‘Avalanche of lawsuits’
Although Gurlitt was never charged with a crime, German authorities confiscated all of the Munich pieces and stored them in a secret location.
Gurlitt struck an accord with the German government shortly before his death to help track down the paintings’ rightful owners, but his anger over his treatment reportedly led him to stipulate in his will that the collection should go not to a German museum, but to the Swiss institution, which will now have to sort through the claims.
Earlier this month, Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, told Der Spiegel that the inheritance “would open a Pandora’s Box and cause an avalanche of lawsuits”.
One of Gurlitt’s cousins, 86-year-old Uta Werner, said on Friday she was contesting Gurlitt’s fitness of mind when he named the Bern museum as his sole heir.
In the meantime, the acquisition of the Gurlitt collection will dramatically increase the prestige of the Bern institution, Switzerland’s oldest art museum.
Public interest in the collection has been “enormous”, Stephan Klingen of Munich’s Institute for Art History told
the German DPA news agency.
“I think this is a chance to show people right before their very eyes how problematic the handling of art and artworks after the war was,” he said.