Family members launch Chaplin museum work

After more than 14 years of discussions and stumbling blocks, work to turn screen legend Charlie Chaplin's Swiss home into a museum has finally begun, with the opening planned in early 2016.

Family members launch Chaplin museum work
Eugene (left), Victoria and Michael, three of Charlie Chaplin's children, on the grounds of the Manoir de Ban on Wednesday. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

To show that the project was finally on track, the promoters on Wednesday showed off the idyllic site in the village of Corsier-sur-Vevey in the canton of Vaud.
The large, white manor overlooking Lake Geneva, which Chaplin called home for the final 25 years of his life, and its surrounding park will over the next two years undergo a transformation expected to cost more than 40 million francs ($45.7 million).
As proof that the project was truly underway, a large yellow belted digger rolled across the sprawling property to a spot in sight of the house, named Manoir de Ban, and began scooping up the lawn and the rich, dark soil beneath.
The new museum will aim to have cultural and artistic aspirations, curator Yves Durand told AFP.
"We will build something unique: a museum that mixes both culture and entertainment," he said.
It took seven years to get a building permit, and before that the project organizers had to wait five years to settle a lawsuit brought by a neighbour worried about the implications of the museum.
"Now, everything is set," Durand said.

"We have the financing, the project leader, the architect, the scenographer and the green light from the family," he said with a grin.
On Wednesday, three of the eight children Charlie Chaplin had with his wife Oona were present to help sound the starting shot for the project.

'The house of his dreams'

Michael Chaplin, who after his father's death on Christmas day 1977, lived in the manor until 2008, recalled the stories of his father's unhappy childhood.
Born Charles Spencer Chaplin, the silent film legend was born in London in 1889 to poor parents who struggled to make a living as music hall entertainers.
"He lived in total misery, abandoned by his father and with a mother who was often institutionalized for psychological problems," said Michael Chaplin, 68, sporting a silvery beard and wearing a black hat.
"This manor was for him the house of his dreams, as he showed in his film Modern Times," he said, gesturing towards the building.
His father, he said, had been truly happy at the end of his life, "serving up vegetables from his garden, asparagus, peas, lettuce, not to mention strawberries."
Both Charlie and Oona Chaplin rest in the nearby Corsier-sur-Vevey cemetery, next to their good family friend and long-time neighbour James Mason, the movie actor, who died in 1984.
Michael's brother Eugene Chaplin, 61, meanwhile, told AFP that his father had "loved to walk on the lake shore, and also here in the park, every day, even if it was raining."
"My mother and my father found happiness here in Switzerland," he said.

"My father was not bothered."

The project unveiled Wednesday comprises two main components: the restoration of Manoir de Ban, a neo-classic structure built nearly 200 years ago, and the construction of a new building meant to house the museum.
The manor, which has remained empty since 2008 and is today in a sad state, and the museum building will together provide more than 4,000 square metres of exhibition space to showcase Chaplin's work.
Visitors will get a glimpse of the artist's humble beginnings in London and his spectacular rise to become one of the biggest legends in Hollywood history.
Film sets will be reconstituted, including Easy Street, which figured in several of his movies.
And the Grevin Museum, a Paris wax museum that is partnering on the project, will present some 30 wax figures representing Chaplin and the many celebrities he rubbed shoulders with.
Chaplin settled in Switzerland in the 1950s after he was barred from the United States due to suspicions in Washington, in the grip of McCarthy era paranoia about Soviet infiltration, that he had communist sympathies.

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First works from Nazi-era art hoard arrive at Swiss museum

A museum in Bern on Friday showed off pieces from a spectacular Nazi-era art hoard it inherited from a German recluse, in the run-up to the first exhibit of the controversial collection.

First works from Nazi-era art hoard arrive at Swiss museum
File photo: AFP

The Museum of Fine Arts in Bern unveiled a selection of the nearly 200 pieces set to go on display on November 2 for its exhibit “Degenerate Art, Confiscated and Sold”.

Among the works showed off to the media Friday were pieces by important German painters Otto Dix, and Franz Marc and Otto Mueller.

The works are part of a vast trove of works left behind by art collector Cornelius Gurlitt, who died in 2014 at the age of 81.

When Gurlitt died, he named the Bern museum as the sole heir to hundreds of works found in his cluttered Munich apartment, including pieces by the likes of Cezanne, Beckmann, Holbein, Delacroix and Munch.

Gurlitt, described in media reports as an eccentric recluse, hid the paintings, drawings and sketches in his Munich home for decades and another 239 works at a house he owned in Salzburg, Austria.

Gurlitt's father was one of four art dealers during the Third Reich tasked by the Nazis with selling art stolen from Jews or confiscated as “degenerate” works.

Although German authorities discovered the collection during a tax probe in 2012, they kept it under wraps for more than a year until it came to light in a magazine article.

Gurlitt struck an agreement with the German government in April 2014 stipulating that any works that were plundered by the Nazis would be returned to their rightful owners and the Bern museum said it would honour that wish.

Heirs of collectors stripped of their assets by the Nazis, many of whom would later be killed in the death camps, have, however, complained that restitution has been woefully slow in coming.

READ ALSO: Zurich uni returns artworks stolen by Nazis

Gurlitt's decision to leave his trove to the Bern museum sparked a lengthy legal battle, which ended last December when a Munich court rejected his cousin Ute Werner's challenge to his will.

She had staked a claim to the collection, arguing that Gurlitt was not mentally fit to stipulate what would happen to the art.

The Bern exhibit will not include any of the plundered works, but will be mainly made up of works considered by the Nazis to be “degenerated art” and sequestered in German museums.

Most of the pieces are on paper, including important works within the symbolism, expressionism, constructivism and new objectivity movements.

But the exhibit in Switzerland will run in parallel with a second display from the collection at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, Germany, which will focus on “Nazi Art Theft and its Consequences”.

Once those two exhibits have run their course by early March 2018, the Bonn exhibition will go on display in Bern, the museum said.