German Court Rules Gurlitt’s Art Collection Can Go to Bern


A German court ruled Thursday that a priceless trove of art kept hidden from the world for decades by reclusive German collector Cornelius Gurlitt can go to a Swiss museum, as requested in his will.

The Munich state court rejected a case brought by his cousin, Uta Werner, who claimed the 81-year-old wasn’t mentally fit when he wrote his will shortly before his death in May 2014.

The decision was welcomed “with a sigh of relief” by the Kunstmuseum Bern, which pledged to press ahead with planned exhibitions of the works and research into their origins. Some of the art was taken away from Jewish owners by the Nazis in the 1930s and ’40s.

Gurlitt died just months after German authorities announced they had seized almost 1,300 artworks at his Munich apartment and another 200 at a home in Salzburg, Austria.

Werner, his cousin, contested the will, claiming that Gurlitt was delusional and had named the Swiss museum as his only heir because he wanted to protect the art from Nazis — even 70 years after the end of World War II.

Thursday’s ruling confirmed a lower court’s decision rejecting Werner’s challenge, which she had appealed. Thomas Pfaff, a representative for Werner, said the family hadn’t decided yet whether to take further legal action.

Authorities stumbled upon Gurlitt’s collection while investigating a tax case in 2012. The collector claimed to have inherited them from his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who traded in works confiscated by the Nazis.

Experts have so far identified more than 90 works in Gurlitt’s collection that were likely looted by the Nazis, including pictures by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Max Liebermann, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch and Rembrandt. Since May 2015, a small number of works have been returned to their rightful owners’ heirs.

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