Nazi-linked art to be exhibited in Bern and Bonn

Police found and seized about 1,500 major artworks at Cornelius Gurlitt’s Munich home

File combination photo of two formerly unknown paintings by German artist Otto Dix. Some 1,500 artworks were confiscated from the Munich residence of Cornelius Gurlitt by German authorities. Photograph: Reuters

File combination photo of two formerly unknown paintings by German artist Otto Dix. Some 1,500 artworks were confiscated from the Munich residence of Cornelius Gurlitt by German authorities. Photograph: Reuters

 

Hundreds of artworks not seen for decades will be put on display this winter in a double exhibition showcasing the infamous Gurlitt art collection.

The works by Picasso, Monet, Chagall and other masters are to be exhibited in Bern and Bonn, two years after the death of collector Cornelius Gurlitt aged 81.

His father, German art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, claimed the collection, which he assembled in the 1930s and 1940s, was destroyed in the 1945 bombing of Dresden. But the works survived and, on their discovery, were assumed to be so-called looted art.

In the Third Reich era Hildebrand was authorised by the Nazis to sell off modernist art works they dubbed “degenerate”, but many suspected he kept works sold under duress by their owners, including persecuted Jews.

After decades in obscurity, and four years in a seized art depot, the dual Bern-Bonn exhibitions will showcase the artworks themselves and the collection’s complicated origins.

It was discovered after a chain of events beginning with a 2010 spot check on a train between Zürich and Munich. Customs officials discovered that one agitated passenger, Cornelius Gurlitt, was carrying €9,000, from selling a painting in Switzerland.

When an investigation revealed Mr Gurlitt had no tax number, no health insurance and never appeared to have worked, police raided his Munich apartment in 2012. There they found and seized about 1,500 major artworks.

News of the find emerged a year later and Mr Gurlitt never saw his works again. Incensed by the forced separation, he changed his will to leave the art to Bern’s Kunstmuseum. It agreed to accept the bequest – but only works that were clearly proved to be Mr Gurlitt’s rightful property.

The others – about 500 works – were handed over for examination by a special taskforce. An initial report found just one per cent of the works were stolen from – or sold under duress by – Jewish owners.

As provenance research continues, so too does a legal challenge to Mr Gurlitt’s will by a cousin. Uta Werner has asked a court to withhold a certificate of inheritance, without which Bern cannot accept the art, claiming her cousin suffered from “paranoid delusions” in his final months.