Swiss museum accepts art from son of Nazi-era dealer


Jewish groups are cautiously positive about Monday’s German-Swiss announcement on the fate of the sensational collection of German art hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt.

After months of consideration, the Kunstmuseum Bern announced that it would accept the collection as a bequest from Gurlitt - but reject any Nazi-looted works.

In addition, the museum said it would check the entire collection to ensure that works would be returned to their legitimate owners.

The collection includes works by such greats as Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Gurlitt died last May,
leaving the entire collection to the Swiss museum.

Both the World Jewish Congress and the Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany welcomed the detailed agreement between Germany, the Free State of Bavaria and the Kunstmuseum Bern, according to which the museum will only accept works that are cleared by the German task force.

The museum will then "bear sole responsibility for [the works] from that moment on", read an official description of the agreement.

WJC head Ronald Lauder applauded the museum's decision "to refuse the toxic part of this collection, which was put together by one of the Nazis' leading art dealers, to the detriment of Jews, of German museums, and of many other people.

"We now need an immediate publication of all artworks left behind by Gurlitt, and we need full transparency in the process of checking
their provenance. Nothing should be sent to Bern before it has been properly checked," he said.

Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said the agreement was "a
very positive step forward" in terms of achieving transparency about the collection, which was confiscated from Gurlitt by German
customs agents in 2012 during the course of an investigation over tax evasion.

Up to now, he said, the German government task force set up to research the collection had "operated under a veil of secrecy. Opening up [the process] will have a hugely positive impact".

Mr Schneider praised the decision to publish a full list of all pieces within the Gurlitt trove, a detailed description of the research to
date, as well as all available documentation, including the business journals of both Cornelius and his father Hildebrand, who acquired art for the Nazis.

The business journals especially "could potentially be very important in tracking down original owners", Mr Schneider said. "It seems as if we have turned a corner in terms of the rights of heirs, but so far it is just an agreement. The key will be implementation."

News of the discovery of the collection broke in October 2013, thanks to a Focus magazine expose. Stashed in Cornelius Gurlitt's Munich apartment, as well as in his other properties in Austria, were hundreds of works by prominent 20th century artists.

Gurlitt's father, Hildebrand, was an official collector on assignment to the Nazi government; he apparently bought works that
already had been confiscated or purchased under duress, particularly in France. Some works have been returned to heirs within the past year.

In his statement, Mr Lauder thanked Germany for promising to settle restitution issues before releasing works to Bern. "Germany has been the country where the looting took place and it, rightly, should be the place of resolution, too," he said.

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