Kunstmuseum Bern accepts Gurlitt's collection
As art sagas go, this has been one of the most sensitive, protracted and convoluted in recent years; yet, it finally appears that some sort of fitting resolution has emerged – wrongs are set to be made right.
In 2012, close to 1,500 of works of art were seized from an apartment in Munich after authorities secured a warrant to search the flat of Cornelius Gurlitt, who had been under investigation for possible tax evasion.
The works had originally belonged to his father Hildebrand Gurlitt, a Nazi-era art dealer who had amassed an impressive collection of art that was determined by the authorities at the time to be degenerate.
Cornelius inherited the works and maintained the private collection, unbeknownst to the rest of the world. Much of this, like other works, was thought to have been lost, stolen or destroyed.
The complex nature of this particular case made it particularly difficult to resolve in a manner that was to the satisfaction of all. It resulted in an agreement that returned the works to Cornelius under the proviso that a government-led taskforce would identify which works had been taken illegally.
In turn, these would be returned to the rightful heirs. However, to further complicate matters, Cornelius passed away earlier this year, naming in his will Kunstmuseum Bern as the “unrestricted and unfettered sole heir” of what is one of the most controversial collections in the world.
Over the last six months, intense negotiations have been taking place between the museum and the German government, the result of which is the former finally agreeing, somewhat reluctantly, to accept the donation.
Christoph Schaeublin, president of the board of trustees at Kunstmuseum Bern, said that there are “no feelings of triumph” in gaining these modern masterpieces, adding that the museum will do everything in its power to make sure all looted art in the collection finds its way home.
Those that have yet to have their provenance properly traced will remain in Germany, while the rest of the collection is expected to go on show at the museum as early as next year. It also plans on sharing works with other museums, such is the unusual burden of this collection.
“The art is innocent,” wrote the Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones. “It deserves to be seen. Whatever the tangle of crime and cruelty that lay behind Cornelius Gurlitt’s strange inheritance of a secret art collection from his father, who had worked for the Nazis as an art dealer, he finally did the right thing in leaving it to the Kunstmuseum Bern, and this excellent museum, which already has important works by artists such as Picasso and Paul Klee, is totally correct in accepting his bequest.”
Cadogan Tate has extensive experience in shipping fine art all over the world.