Gurlitt art collection to head to Switzerland

A vast Nazi-era art collection belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt will head to a Swiss museum following the death of the German recluse on Tuesday.

Gurlitt art collection to head to Switzerland
Some of the works from the Gurlitt collection. Photo: DPA

Gurlitt, 81, hoarded hundreds of masterpieces in his Munich flat for decades, including works plundered by the Nazis from the Jews.

He never married and died childless and the collection which he inherited from his father, who worked as an art dealer for the Nazis, will now head to the Kunstmuseum in Bern, it confirmed on Wednesday.

The news came like a bolt from the blue," the museum said in a statement.

"Despite speculation in the media that Mr. Gurlitt had bequeathed his collection to an art institution outside Germany . . . at no time has Mr. Gurlitt had any connection with Kuntsmuseum Bern," it added.

The museum said its board of trustees and directors are surprised and delighted by the legacy.

But they "do not wish to conceal the fact that this magnificent bequest brings with it a considerable burden of responsibility".

The museum acknowledged that the collection "raises a wealth of questions of the most difficult and sensitive kind, and questions in particular of a legal and ethical nature".

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Gurlitt, who died following a heart operation, made his will while in hospital a few months ago in which he left the works to the Bern museum.

CLICK HERE to see some of the works

In a deal reached a month before Gurlitt's death the hundreds of masterpieces, including works by Monet, Manet and Picasso, which had been confiscated by authorities, were given back to Gurlitt.

In return he allowed art experts to examine his collection and agreed to hand over any works to their rightful owners. 

SEE ALSO: Prosecutors to return artworks to Gurlitt

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Germany returns final Nazi-looted artwork from pensioner’s trove

Germany said on Wednesday it had returned to its rightful owners the last artwork confirmed as looted by the Nazis uncovered in the collection of a reclusive Munich pensioner.

Germany returns final Nazi-looted artwork from pensioner's trove
One of the works found in Gurlitt's apartment, Waterloo Bridge by Monet, being displayed in Berlin in 2018. Photo: DPA

Culture Minister Monika Grütters said a total of 14 pieces had been handed back since a giant trove held by Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi-era art dealer, came to light eight years ago.

The final work to be restituted was “Klavierspiel” (Playing the Piano), a drawing by German artist Carl Spitzweg. It was given on Tuesday to Christie's auction house according to the wishes of the heirs of music publisher Henri Hinrichsen, who was murdered at Auschwitz in 1942.

The transfer was arranged with the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern, which inherited Gurlitt's collection when he died in 2014.

READ ALSO: Germany returns famous artwork looted by Nazis

Grütters said it sent “an important message” that with the Spitzweg drawing “all art identified as looted from the Gurlitt art trove has been returned to the heirs of the victims”.

“Behind every one of these pictures is a tragic human fate,” Grütters said.

“We cannot make up for that great suffering. But by reckoning with the art looted by the Nazis, we are trying to contribute to historical justice and face up to our moral responsibility.”

'Enduring duty'

Grütters pledged to “decisively” continue provenance research on work in German collections, saying it was an “enduring duty”.

Adolf Hitler's regime stole the drawing from Hinrichsen in 1939 and the following year Hildebrand Gurlitt bought it.

The Nazis had engaged Hildebrand — who was part-Jewish — from 1938 to deal in items taken from Jewish owners or confiscated as “degenerate”.

A German government task force identified the drawing as looted in 2015 but legal complications meant its restitution could not be settled until now, Grütters said.

More than 1,500 works including pieces by Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt were seized in 2012 during a tax probe.

The discovery of the stash, kept secret until the following year, made headlines around the world and revived an emotional debate about how thoroughly post-war Germany had reckoned with art plundered by the Nazi regime.

When Gurlitt died, the Bern museum accepted the collection, though it left about 500 works in Germany for a government task force to research their often murky origins.

Their work, and restitution, have been criticised by many heirs and activists as too slow. They say the Gurlitt case underlines the ongoing need for thorough provenance research in museum holdings and private collections.