Cousin of Cornelius Gurlitt Challenges Will That Leaves Collection to Swiss Museum

New York Times 21 November 2014
By Melissa Eddy

A cousin has challenged the will of Cornelius Gurlitt hours before the Swiss museum he named in May as his sole heir was poised to accept his bequest of hundreds of artworks collected by his father, a leading art dealer for Hitler.

It was not certain whether the move would affect the decision of the Kunstmuseum Bern, expected by early next week. Uta Werner, a cousin of Mr. Gurlitt, applied Friday to the Munich court that is handling his estate for a certificate of inheritance on behalf of herself, several of her children and some other relatives, Thomas Pfaff, a spokesman for the family said in a statement. The German government and the Kunstmuseum Bern on Thursday said they would announce the collection’s fate on Monday.

The museum was expected to accept the gift, according to people with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. The discovery of the collection sent the art world into an uproar year and German authorities’ initial decision not to go public with its existence raised questions about the country’s dedication to clarifying the history of Nazi-looted art, more than a half-century after the end of World War II.

Mr. Gurliit’s relatives had originally laid out a five-point plan concerning how they would handle the collection, only if the museum were to reject the gift, the statement said. The plan included pledging to research the provenance of the artworks and return any found to have been looted by the Nazis to descendants of the original Jewish owners. The relatives changed their minds and decided to challenge the will after a report commissioned from a psychiatrist raised doubts over whether Mr. Gurlitt was of sound mind when he drew it up, Mr. Pfaff said.

It will now be up to the Munich court to review the will and decide on its validity. The court’s press office did not immediately return calls seeking comment late Friday.
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