Gurlitt reaches deal with German authorities over vast trove of art
German authorities have reached an agreement with reclusive art collector Cornelius Gurlitt on how to deal with his trove of more than 1,400 works of art found in his Munich apartment.
The Bavarian Justice Ministry, the federal culture minister's office and Gurlitt's representatives said Monday in a joint statement that Gurlitt had agreed to cooperate with authorities in trying to determine if any of the seized art had been looted by the Nazis.
"He is committed to the voluntary return of any looted art," German Culture Minister Monika Grütters told broadcaster 3sat. "We are very pleased that we were able to reach an agreement with Mr. Gurlitt and his lawyers, regardless of the ongoing criminal proceedings."
The task force running the investigation will include a representative of Gurlitt.
Gurlitt's lawyer said that the deal would allow the 81-year-old to keep works of art that were indisputably his. The pieces are to be returned to him within a year.
The huge collection of art was seized by authorities in 2012 who were investigating a tax case, but the incident only became public last November. The trove included works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Franz Marc, Paul Klee and Max Beckmann.
A second collection of art was seized in February at another property owned by Gurlitt.
Many of the paintings are thought to have been acquired by Gurlitt's father, Hildebrand, who was a prominent Nazi-era art dealer. He was permitted by Nazi authorities to sell so-called "degenerate art" that was confiscated from museums.
Around 600 of the works are currently under investigation, but it has yet to be determined how many of the paintings were actually seized by the Nazis.
dr/kms (AP, dpa)
Gurlitt spokesperson Stephan Holzinger tells DW what's next for pieces of art suspected to have been looted by Nazis but which prosecutors decided should be returned to the man who stashed them away for years.
There are rumours that a not-named "Swiss institution" is the dominating heir in his testament.
The surrogate's court will have some work to do.
ART COLLECTION GURLITT
Today, May 7, 2014, Kunstmuseum Bern was informed by Mr Christoph Edel, lawyer to Mr Cornelius Gurlitt, who died yesterday, May 6, 2014, by telephone and in writing that Mr Cornelius Gurlitt has appointed the private-law foundation Kunstmuseum Bern his unrestricted and unfettered sole heir. Despite speculation in the media that Mr Gurlitt had bequeathed his collection to an art institution outside Germany, the news came like a bolt from the blue, since at no time has Mr Gurlitt had any connection with Kunstmuseum Bern. The Board of Trustees and Directors of Kunstmuseum Bern are surprised and delighted, but at the same time do not wish to conceal the fact that this magnificent bequest brings with it a considerable burden of responsibility and a wealth of questions of the most difficult and sensitive kind, and questions in particular of a legal and ethical nature. They will not be in a position to issue a more detailed statement before first consulting the relevant files and making contact with the appropriate authorities.
Cornelius Gurlitt's death prompts many questions. Most importantly: What will happen to his extensive and questionable art collection? Walter Schön from the Bavarian Justice Department has the answer.
Art heir Cornelius Gurlitt died at the age of 81 in Munich, four weeks after he had legally allowed the Federal Republic of Germany and the Free State of Bavaria to access his art collection in order to investigate whether the it contains works looted during the Nazi era. The head of the Bavarian Justice Department, Dr. Walter Schön, was present when this agreement was made.
DW: The case has not been closed with the death of Cornelius Gurlitt. What is going to happen to the art collection and the contract now?
Walter Schön:We made an agreement that extends beyond the death of Mr. Gurlitt. According to German law the heirs are also bound to this contract. We expect that what was publically important to us - resolving the provenance of the artworks and the willingness of Mr. Gurlitt to restitute them - will still be possible.
What does that mean for the whereabouts of the works? The seizure through the Department of Public Prosecution in Augsburg was reversed after the agreement was signed.
When it comes to the whereabouts of the works of art, the contract states that they will remain in custody until the foreseeable conclusion of the provenance research - which will likely be in March of next year. The works of art are safely stored so that the provenance research can proceed without any restrictions. As soon as the origin of the pictures has been clarified and as long as there are no restitution claims, we will naturally return them to the heirs.
In case the provenance research can't be concluded, it was agreed that the works will still be returned. But the heirs are obligated to enable further provenance research and grant access to the works. All of the artworks for which restitution claims have already been made, or will be made, will be kept in administrative trust. That's what the heir Gurlitt and the public affiliate, meaning the Federal Republic of Germany and the Free State of Bavaria, have agreed on.
What's the legal procedure for making property claims now that Cornelius Gurlitt has died?
That's something the heirs have to deal with, just like Mr. Gurlitt had to deal with these claims and the claimants - via his lawyers.
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"Well Cornelius, heres another fine one you've gotten us into"
It's a milestone for provenance research after the sensational find of the Gurlitt art trove: The auction catalogues of Nazi art dealer Adolf Weinmüller have recently been made available to the public.
"In some cities, the artworks seized from Jewish owners after 1938 were auctioned by his house, nearly without exception."
By 1944, Adolf Weinmüller had amassed an impressive collection. In Vienna he took over the "Aryanization" of the Jewish gallery Kunsthaus Kende and opened a branch of his own there. After the war, the so-called Monuments Men sent by the Allied forces recovered 34,500 works in his auction houses.
In contrast, Gurlitt was a small fish, says Meike Hopp, pointing out that the Allies' list of Hildebrandt Gurllit's inventory took up three pages, but Weinmüller's filled an entire binder.
"It's hard to even imagine the dimension of the works that were in his inventory in 1945," she said. "And that's what he built his post-war business on."
The coincidental discovery of Weinmüller's auction documents in a steel air conditioning cabinet in March 2013 was all the more valuable, says Kathrin Stoll, director of the Neumeister auction house. "There were bundles that were tied together. And then you could see the name of the consignor: 'Gestapo.' Then you get goose bumps."
It may be an expression of the democratic responsibility felt by the post-war generation: Kathrin Stoll, whose father, Rudolf Neumeister, bought Weinmüller's debt-ridden auction house in 1958, quickly cleared it with her family that she wanted to make these dramatic documents available to the researchers and the public.
"We didn't want to hesitate a day longer because we knew that every day heirs or descendants of disposssessed Jewish families may die," said Stoll. We knew we had to go public very quickly - unlike the Gurlitt case, which was kept secret for two years."
Uwe Hartmann holds Kathrin Stoll in high regard for her approach. "She makes it clear that dealing with this issue differently is perhaps a generational issue. She described it fairly visually when she said, 'I don't want any corpses in my cellar!'"