Gurlitt ‘sane’ when donating art to museum

Swissinfo 22 December 2015

It seems Cornelius Gurlitt was of sound mind when he bequeathed his extensive art collection to a Swiss museum. That’s what a Munich court – adjudicating an inheritance counter-claim from relatives of the deceased German art collector – has heard.

The 146-page expert medical opinion was heard in the court on Tuesday. Gurlitt’s cousin, Uta Werner, has until February 1 to respond to the evidence. It is unclear how long the trial will last.

The reclusive Gurlitt, the son of Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, left a will handing the significant collection to Bern’s Museum of Fine Arts when he died aged 81 in April 2014. The collection consists of more than 1,500 paintings, drawings, lithographs, woodcuts and posters by artists including Matisse, Picasso, Renoir and Monet.

The museum said it would accept the donation in November 2014, but the decision was controversial for two reasons: it is believed that some of the art works were probably stolen from victims of the Holocaust, and Uta Werner has also contested the contents of Gurlitt’s will.

In the hope of solving the first problem, the German authorities set up the Schwabing Art Trove Task Force to comb through the collection for examples of Nazi looted art. However, after nearly two years of sifting through the collection, which contained 499 suspicious works, only five artworks have been positively identified as stolen.


The task force still has until mid-January to complete its findings, but the Jewish Claims Conference has once again criticised the taskforce for what it see as foot-dragging up until this point. Last month, German Culture Minister Monika Grütters also expressed frustration at the slow progress being made, German-based journalist Catherine Hickley told

“The general public perception in Germany is that the taskforce has been mismanaged, badly organised and lacking in transparency,” said Hickley. “This is not helped by the taskforce appearing to give precedence to the privacy rights of the deceased Gurlitt over those of individual claimants to the artworks. This gives the impression of having false priorities.”

In her book, The Munich Art Hoard: Hitler’s Dealer and His Secret Legacy, Hickley traces the collection’s history and examines the legal and ethical challenges of dealing with looted art.
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