Swiss Museum Warned Not to Accept Nazi-looted Art

Ron Lauder of World Jewish Congress says Bern Art Museum, which was named as heir of Cornelius Gurlitt collection, could be hit with 'avalanche' of lawsuits if it does.

Reuters
Reuters
An image of "Melancholic Girl" by German artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, which was found in a Munich flat owned by Cornelius Gurlitt.
An image of "Melancholic Girl" by German artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, which was found in a Munich flat owned by Cornelius Gurlitt.Credit: Reuters
Reuters
Reuters

The head of the World Jewish Congress warned a Swiss art museum that it risks an “avalanche” of lawsuits if it accepts the bequest of a collection of artwork amassed by a man who dealt in art for the Nazis.

The Bern Art Museum discovered in May it had been named sole heir of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of a man who dealt in so-called “degenerate” art for Adolf Hitler. The Bern museum has yet to decide whether to accept the artwork.

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said that since Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, had collected art stolen by the Nazis from Jewish collectors or taken from German state museums, Bern would have a problem on its hands if it accepted the works before their provenance has been fully investigated.

“If this museum in Switzerland gets involved with this inheritance, it will open Pandora’s box and unleash an avalanche of lawsuits - possibly from German museums, but certainly from the descendants of the Jewish owners,” Lauder said.

“The people in Bern will harm themselves and their country if they take these paintings before their provenance is cleared up. They would become a museum of stolen art,” he told German magazine Der Spiegel in an interview to be published on Sunday.

Gurlitt died in May at the age of 81, in the flat in Munich where he lived and stored the art collection. The Bern museum said news of his bequest came “like a bolt from the blue,” because it had not had any connection with him.

Hundreds of masterpieces by the likes of Chagall and Picasso were secretly stored by Gurlitt at the Munich apartment and a house in nearby Salzburg, Austria. He occasionally sold pieces to finance his quiet lifestyle and his healthcare. The collection is worth an estimated 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion).

The Gurlitt family had said its collection was destroyed in the bombing of their home in Dresden during World War Two. Its survival remained secret until 2012, when tax inspectors stumbled across the hoard during an unrelated inquiry.
The Bern museum denied a German media report last month that it had decided to accept the artworks. It said it was still in talks with German authorities to ascertain all the implications of accepting the inheritance.

“In the end our board of trustees is free to decide whether it is in the best interests of the Bern Art Museum to accept or decline the estate,” it said in a statement in mid-October.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

$1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Mohammad Eslami at an event for Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran, last month.

Prospects for Reviving Iran Nuclear Deal 'Tenuous' at Best, U.S. Envoy Says

A family grieves outside the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Wednesday.

Israeli PM Offers Condolences After Texas Gunman Kills 21 at Elementary School

U.S. President Joe Biden, this week.

Biden Decides to Keep Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Terror List, Says Report

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Progressive Jews Urge ADL Chief to Apologize for Calling Out Democratic Activist

Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders with Jessica Cisneros in San Antonio last week.

It’s AIPAC vs. Bernie Sanders in Too-close-to-call Texas Democratic Runoff

U.S. President Joe Biden. Making a historic pivot to Asia.

Biden Does What His Three Predecessors Talked About Yet Failed to Do