The Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland will return several works donated by the late dealer Cornelius Gurlitt, who several years ago was the subject of one of the most high-profile Nazi art theft cases.
Gurlitt’s 1,600-piece treasure has been the subject of controversy since 2014, when it entered the museum’s collections after the merchant’s death that year. This treasure includes works by Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and others, and Gurlitt inherited it from his father, a merchant and museum director who collaborated with the Nazis. The Bavarian authorities first learned of the provenance of the cache two years earlier during a tax investigation.
After a period of deliberation of six months, the Swiss institution accepted the collection in 2014. It concluded an agreement with the German government and the authorities of the State of Bavaria to return any work of questionable provenance, in accordance with the principles of the 1998 Washington Conference on Nazi Confiscated Art. .
The museum has now identified 29 works from the Gurlitt cache whose provenance from the WWII era cannot be fully traced. The museum said that for these works, although there is no evidence that they were ever manipulated by the Nazis recovered during a multi-year research effort, their ownership records still represent “Remarkable circumstances”.
From this group, two watercolors by Otto Dix, Tamer (1922) and Lady in der Loge (1922), will be jointly returned to the heirs of German Jewish collectors Ismar Littmann and Paul Schaefer. Five more will be transferred to the German government. The remaining 22 works from this group will remain in the museum’s collection for further research. New findings about them will be published in an online database on the Gurlitt collection maintained by the museum.
“For the Kunstmuseum Bern, managing the legacy of Cornelius Gurlitt has been and still is a major challenge and everyone involved is dedicated to managing it properly,” museum director Nina Zimmer said in a statement. “I am particularly delighted with the international networks and collaboration in the field of provenance research that have emerged in recent years. This is the path we need to follow moving forward – we still have a lot of work ahead of us. “
This is not the first time that the Kunstmuseum Bern has parted with the works acquired thanks to the Gurlitt donation. As of May 2020, 14 works from the collection, including paintings by Henri Matisse, Thomas Couture and Max Liebermann, had been identified as having been stolen and returned to the descendants of their original owners.