Cornelius Gurlitt leaves art collection to Swiss museum
In a surprise twist to an already complicated art tale, Cornelius Gurlitt, who died on Tuesday at 81, has left art from his previously hidden stash of hundreds of works to a museum in Switzerland.
The Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland said on its website Wednesday that it was informed by Gurlitt’s lawyer that the reclusive octogenarian named the museum “his unrestricted and unfettered sole heir.”
Museum officials said that the revelation came like “a bolt from the blue, since at no time has Mr. Gurlitt had any connection with Kunstmuseum Bern.”
Last year, it was revealed that Gurlitt had been hiding a stash of about 1,200 works of art in his apartment in Munich. Gurlitt is the son of the late Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who worked with the Third Reich.
Many of the pieces are suspected of having been looted by Nazi forces during the Holocaust. Since the revelation last year, German officials have begun the painstaking task of authenticating the hundreds of items, which include works on paper and paintings by such artists as Pablo Picasso, Gustave Courbet, Max Beckmann and Albrecht Dürer.
It remains unclear how Gurlitt’s bequest to the Swiss museum will affect the ongoing legal proceedings. Families from around the world have made claims on some of the art, saying that the pieces were seized from their ancestors by Nazis.
Gurlitt died on Tuesday at his Munich apartment following recent heart surgery. In April, his spokesman announced that Gurlitt had reached an agreement with German officials under which he agreed to return art that was linked to Nazi looting and keep pieces that are not.
Officials at the Kunstmuseum Bern said that they are “surprised and delighted” by Gurlitt’s bequest. But they also sounded a strong note of caution, saying in the release that the revelation “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.”
It remains unclear if Gurlitt is survived by any family members.
German authorities seized the works of art from his apartment in 2012 but kept the raid secret. A 2013 article in the German magazine Focus revealed the stash to the public.
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