Art Collection Containing Pieces Looted From Jews to Be Exhibited at the Israel Museum

The collection, which has been valued at over $1 billion, had been hidden away by the son of German art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt and was discovered by chance in 2012

Maya Asheri
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Pieces from the Gurlitt collection presented in the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall in Berlin, Germany, September 2018
Pieces from the Gurlitt collection presented in the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall in Berlin, Germany, September 2018Credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH/Reuters
Maya Asheri

A portion of the Gurlitt art collection of some 1,500 masterpieces, some of which the Nazis looted from Jewish owners, will go on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in the spring of next year. The collection includes paintings and sculptures by Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, among many others.

At this point, the original owners of only four items in the collection have been identified. Germany’s federal government commissioner for culture and the media, Monika Grutters, said in Jerusalem on Thursday that she hoped that exhibiting the collection in Israel will result in identifying Jewish owners of other items in the collection. Grutters was speaking at a meeting with Israeli Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel.

The Gurlitt collection was discovered by German authorities by chance in 2012, as part of a tax-evasion investigation, in the basement of the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich. Additional art was found at the family’s residence in Salzburg, Austria.

Gurlitt inherited the art collection from his father, the German art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who acquired the art during the Nazi era. The collection was valued at an estimated 1 billion euros ($1.15 billion) when it was found. Cornelius Gurlitt, the son, kept it hidden for decades and even sold some of the works at public auctions.

Following the collection’s discovery, a committee in Germany began examining the works’ origins. In 2016, the committee announced that only five of the pieces of art had been looted during the Nazi period from Jews.

Pieces from the Gurlitt collection presented in the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall in Berlin, Germany, September 2018
Pieces from the Gurlitt collection presented in the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall in Berlin, Germany, September 2018Credit:

The committee said the origin of 500 other pieces was still unknown. No information was released about the remaining 1,000 items. A number of Jewish organizations blasted the committee’s conclusions, and Grutters said at the time that the German government would continue to make efforts to trace the owners of the art.

In 2017, a large part of the collection was put on display for the first time, in two simultaneous exhibitions in Bern, Switzerland and in the German city of Bonn.

The exact date of the exhibition at the Israel Museum and which pieces from the Gurlitt collection would be displayed there have not yet been finalized, but Gamliel's office said the exhibition would reflect the scope and historical and artistic importance of the collection.

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