The Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland will return several works donated by the late dealer Cornelius Gurlitt

Artworks from Gurlitt collection

The Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland will return the works of art. They were donated by the dealer Cornelius Gurlitt. Several years ago, the collector Cornelius Gurlitt was the subject of widely publicized Nazi art theft cases.

The Gurlitt collection consists of 1,600 items. It has been the subject of polemic since 2014. Gurlitt collection came into the museum’s funds after the merchant’s death in the same year. This treasury includes works by Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and others, and Gurlitt inherited it from his father, a merchant and museum director who collaborated with the Nazis.

The Bavarian authorities first learned of the origin of the cache two years earlier during a tax investigation. After a six-month discussion period, the Swiss institution accepted the Gurlitt collection in 2014. They entered into an agreement with the German government and the Bavarian authorities for the return of any works of dubious provenance in accordance with the principles of the 1998 Washington Conference regarding works of art confiscated by the Nazis.

The museum has now identified 29 works from the Gurlitt collection, whose World War II origins cannot be fully traced. The Kunstmuseum Bern said that for these works, discovered through years of research, the ownership records still represent “remarkable circumstances.” There is no evidence that they were ever treated by the Nazis.

Cornelius Gurlitt

Two watercolors by Otto Dix, Domptoise (1922), and Lady in a Box (1922), will be jointly returned to the heirs of the German Jewish collectors Ismar Littmann and Paul Schäfer. Another five works from the Gurlitt collection will be donated to the German government. The remaining 22 works from this group will remain in the Kunstmuseum Bern collection for further study.

New finds related to them will be published in the online database of the Gurlitt collection run by the museum. For the Kunstmuseum Bern, working with the legacy of Cornelius Gurlitt has been and remains a major challenge. And everyone who is involved in it strives to deal with it correctly. This was stated by the director of the museum Nina Zimmer.

This is not the first time that the Kunstmuseum Bern has parted with the works of art that were obtained thanks to the donation of Cornelius Gurlitt. By May 2020, 14 works from the Gurlitt collection, including paintings by Henri Matisse, Thomas Couture, and Max Liebermann, were found to be stolen and returned to the descendants of their original owners.

History of the Gurlitt Collection

Otto Dix, Domptoise (1922)

Found in the apartment of the collector Cornelius Gurlitt, the collection came to him from his father, an art dealer who, with Hitler’s approval, traded in paintings taken from Jewish collectors and bought up the so-called “degenerate art.”

Immediately after the war, the collection was confiscated by the Allies, but Hildebrand Gurlitt somehow managed to get it back. He died in the 1950s, and his widow stated that the Gurlitt collection was allegedly destroyed at the end of the war during the bombing of Dresden.

It was only discovered in 2012 when tax inspectors were inspecting the home of their son Cornelius Gurlitt and found more than 1,400 pieces of art. Another 60 works were found in his home in Salzburg.

Among the found paintings there were works by :

  • Pablo Picasso;
  •  Henri Matisse;
  •  Marc Chagall;
  •  Edvard Munch;
  •  Max Liebermann;
  •  Emil Nolde;
  •  Paul Klee.

Cornelius Gurlitt died in Munich in 2014. Shortly before his death, he entered into an agreement with the German authorities, offering assistance in finding the rightful heirs of the original owners of the paintings.

Gurlitt`s lawyers have previously said that ownership of a small portion of the art can be challenged, but most of the work, they said, was the unconditional property of the collector. According to preliminary data, the total value of the found paintings is about a billion euros.


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