The Bern-Germany-Bavaria Agreement on Gurlitt works

Posted on: November 25, 2014 by

As reported yesterday, an agreement has been reached between the Bern Museum of Fine Arts (or Kunstmuseum), the German Republic and the Bavarian State on how to deal with the works of art bequeathed by Cornelius Gurlitt in his will to the Museum.

A summary of the agreement is now available in English. In general terms, it provides that any works that have or are suspected to have been looted during the Nazi era will remain with the Task Force in Bavaria. The Task Force will continue its provenance research on these works and will report these findings publically on in 2015. If heirs can be located for looted works (or works that were “very likely” looted), the works will be restituted. Provenance research will also be undertaken by the Task Force, at the behest of the Museum, in regards to the 238 works kept in Gurlitt’s other home in Salzburg, Austria.

Any looted works for which the heir cannot be found will be kept in Germany and put on display until a claimant comes forward. If the Task Force cannot determine with sufficient clarity whether certain works were looted or not, the Museum will decide whether or not to accept them.

The works that the Museum will inherit will include the so-called ‘degenerate’ art that had been confiscated by the Nazis from state museums in 1938. The works had been property of the state and were then bought by Hildebrand Gurlitt. These works will come to the Swiss Museum, but the Museum will, under certain conditions, agree to loan them to the museums in Germany where they had once hung.

On paper, the agreement looks good. It clarifies the Swiss Museum’s position and makes it known that looted works will be returned to the heirs of their original owners. It provides a system of ‘returning’ (through loans) works that had once been stripped from the walls of German museums.

But there remains the sticky topic of the challenge to Gurlitt’s final will. If his cousin, Uta Werner, succeeds in her challenge, then the above agreement would be meaningless, effectively going up in smoke.