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

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

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.


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.


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