The art hoard of Cornelius Gurlitt – the recluse who kept close wraps on the enormous collection amassed by his father, who worked with the Nazis to procure the artworks included – has made consistent headlines since it was discovered in 2012. Rarely have they been so promising as this: as the New York Times reports, museums in Bern, Switzerland and Bonn, Germany are planning parallel exhibits, hopefully for the winter of 2016-2017.
While Gurlitt, who died in 2014, willed the collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern, a legal challenge from another family member has prevented the museum from scheduling any exhibits. For those who might be heirs to the artworks’ creators, this delay has proved maddening. It’s been suggested that the elder Gurlitt, Hildebrand, obtained some of the collection under circumstances deeply unfair to the artists; his son specified that any looted artworks in the collection should be returned to their owners, but the lack of a public display of the artworks has prevented such potential owners from making their claims. Contributing to the impatience and indignation is the fact that a German government task force succeeded in finding only five of the works’ rightful owners last year.
The Bonn and Bern exhibits will be welcome to the artworks’ heirs, and given the collection’s quality – it features, among others, works by Chagall, Picasso, Renoir and Matisse – art fans across the world will be eager to see the previously hidden works. Forgive us – forgive us – but it does look, well, as if the art world will spend 2016 feeling both the Bonn and the Bern.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TalyaZax
Cornelius Gurlitt is a curious man. The 80-year-old lived most of his life shut in his Munich apartment, rarely seeing visitors or leaving the house. His only companions were his 1,000 paintings, many of which are suspected of being looted from Jewish homes and bought from Nazi authorities by Gurlitt’s father during the Holocaust.
As German authorities investigate the art, the state prosecutor of Augsburg announced in November that they would gradually put photographs of all of them online. As of today, there are 354 registered art works available on the Lost Art Internet Database, including several lithographs by Edvard Munch, a female portrait by Paul Gaugin and drawings by the German-Jewish impressionist Max Liebermann.
More than 100 families and individuals have contacted the Augsburg authorities claiming ownership of different pieces, according to the JTA. Germany’s newspaper Bild Zeitung already managed to find the rightful owner of a Chagall painting in Gurlitt’s collection, as JTA reported last week.
In February 2012, Gurlitt’s massive private collections was seized by German authorities because they suspected Gurlitt of tax fraud. More than half are thought to be looted by the Nazis during the Holocaust, and later bought by Gurlitt’s father Hildebrand, an art dealer. Another 390 were considered “Degenerate Art” under the Nazi regime.
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