Conflicting Reports About Possible Acceptance of Gurlitt Bequest by Kunstmuseum Bern

Art Law Report 13 October 2014
By Nicholas O'Donnell

There have been multiple and conflict reports in the last 48 hours about whether the Kunstmuseum Bern had reached a decision to accept the inheritance from and appointment as heir by Cornelius Gurlitt. Gurlitt, who died in early May shortly after reaching an agreement with the Bavarian prosecutor concerning the 1,280 works of art seized from his apartment on suspicion of Nazi-looting connections, unexpectedly named the Swiss museum as the sole beneficiary of his will, and as his heir and representative.  Just last week, the news was that the Kunstmuseum had resolved to decide by late November, no later than six months after being advised of Gurlitt’s bequest.

Then yesterday the Sonntagszeitung reported that the museum had indeed reached a decision to accept the collection and the role (which would, presumably, extend beyond the 1,280 works taken from his Schwabing apartment in Munich, and also to the several hundred objects in Austria, which are beyond the reach of the Bavarians). Reuters took up the story in English, with the headline that “Swiss art museum to accept German hoarder’s paintings: paper.”

Today, the museum walked the story back in multiple Swiss publications (all in German, from what I have found so far). The Tages Anzeiger in Zürich has an article today entitled “Bern Kunstmuseum Denies Gurlitt Decision.” The article describes the Sonntagszeitung article as “premature and partially incorrect.” The museum stated that the foundation’s board (responsible for the museum) declined to comment, citing ongoing confidential conversations with both Germany and Bavaria about the handling of the case. Foundation President Christoph Schäublin was cited as fearful of being “overrun,” and therefor declined to make a public announcement, according to museum spokeswoman Ruth Gilgen Hamisultane in her communication to the TA. The Berner Zeitung followed suit in confirming the lack of an actual decision.

So as of today, the deadline remains November 26, 2014. We shall see as events develop.
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