Bern Museum Accepts Gurlitt Bequest

Posted on: November 24, 2014 by

Alea iacta est… 

The decision in the Causa Gurlitt was highly anticipated. On Saturday, the board of trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts Bern (‘Museum’) decided to accept the bequest of the late Cornelius Gurlitt. This morning, the decision was publicly announced in a joint press meeting by the German government, the State of Bavaria and the Museum in Berlin (the release is not yet available in English).

Accepting the bequest comes with significant political and legal risks as well as an increased administrative burden. Of the Gurlitt collection of around 1,600 artworks, many are believed to have been looted during the Nazi era. The Museum has committed to thoroughly researching the provenance of each artwork, identifying looted items and restituting these to their rightful owners. The Museum aims to act in accordance with the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.

The Museum reached an agreement with the German government and the State of Bavaria. According to this agreement, the German Task Force Schwabinger Kunstfund will continue its provenance research. Artworks which are believed to be looted will remain in Germany until the matter is resolved. In due course, the German Task Force will be complemented by an additional research group which will be privately funded out of Switzerland. This follows the agreement that Gurlitt had reached with the German authorities shortly before his death binding his heirs to restitute any artworks which have been identified as looted.

In light of recent news coverage about one of Gurlitt’s cousins threatening to challenge the will, the family’s reaction is keenly anticipated.

For the Museum of Fine Arts Bern, the Gurlitt bequest has the potential to fill the void created when the Paul Klee foundation moved its famous collection to a new museum in 2005.