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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.

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ART

Eight online events in Germany not to miss in February 2021

With tougher Covid-19 restrictions now in place in Germany, travelling and socialising have become increasingly limited. So we’ve compiled a list of fun events for you to enjoy from the comfort of your own home!

Eight online events in Germany not to miss in February 2021
The entrance to Berlin's Alte Nationalgallerie. Photo: DPA

Here are some events and ongoing activities to look out for in February.

Berlin Philharmonic returns to the 1920s, Saturday, February 13th 2021 at 6:45pm

Berliner Philharmoniker is streaming the 1920s First Symphony Opera, one of German composer Kurt Weill’s early performances. 

As described by the orchestra, this piece’s music is “captivating and triumphant”. The music was composed in 1927 and its story takes place in ancient Greece. 

Final Girls Film Festival, February 4th at 1pm to February 8th at 11:59pm

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival showcases horror cinema that’s directed, written, or produced by women and non-binary filmmakers. 

The festival is committed to creating space for female voices and visions, whether monstrous, heroic or some messy combination of the two, in the horror genre.

Berliner Festspiele, Strong Pieces Stream, Until March 

Berliner Festspiele is showing two of their top picks.

“The Misanthrope” is a Molière’s classic staged by Anne Lenk, and translated by Jürgen Gosch and Wolfgang Wiens. It’s been called a straightforward delight with an exceptional concentration of language and wit. 

And “Man appears in the Holocene” is staged by Alexander Giesches after Max Frisch’s novella about mankind’s Sisyphus-struggle against their own doom.

König Gallerie, 'Dreaming of Alligator Head' by Claudia Comte, January 21st 2021- January 12th 2022

With her digital solo exhibition Dreaming of Alligator Head, Comte creates a scenario that is impossible in reality: She plants her underwater sculpture park in the König Gallerie app. The digital visitors inside experience a fascinating underwater world without having to go on a physical journey. 

Comte also seeks to raise awareness of marine environments and ask how an artistic object can change the world. Check out the exhibition on the König Gallerie app. 

Galerie Tanja Wagner, How to be human, until February 13th 2021 

Celebrating 10 years of the opening of her contemporary art gallery, Tanja Wagner’s exhibition, How to Be Human showcases her personal favourite works of artists she has collaborated with.

It includes Grit Richter’s famous work, Das Letzte Wort, as well as other works that in Wagner’s opinion, seek to explore the question ’How to Be Human’. 

Alte Nationalgalerie Online, until further notice

The Alte Nationalgalerie was set up as a “sanctuary for art and science”. The idea for a national gallery was realised after the donation of a collection of paintings by Caspar David Friedrich to the Prussian state. 

Since Covid-19 has made it difficult to visit the otherwise very popular museum, the gallery has made its collection available online until further notice. 

Naturkundemuseum Berlin, Beats and Bones Podcast and Livestream, Mondays at 7pm, until further notice 

Berlin’s Naturkundemuseum is offering a podcast series where nature experts from the museum answer questions about the diversity of nature, evolution, the formation of the earth, climate change and insect death.

They explore questions such as “Who knows our earliest ancestors were 480 million-year-old jawless fish?” Or, ‘What is the Achilles heel of Tyrannosaurus rex’? 

Catch new episodes every Monday on Instagram, along with a live stream through the museum with experts accompanying you through the collection and exhibition. The previous episodes are available on Spotify as well as Youtube. 

Anne Frank Zentrum, All about Anne, until further notice 

The Anne Frank Zentrum's exhibition “All about Anne” is normally presented at Hackescher Markt in Berlin-Mitte. Since lockdown, the exhibition has been made available online. 

Its exhibition tells the story of Anne Frank's life and the time in which she lived. It also explains why her diary is so well-known today and shows that her thoughts are still relevant. 

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