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

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

ASwiss mu­seum 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 honor 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.

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. — AFP

Jour­nal­ists film, take pic­ture and look at the pieces of art dur­ing the press pre­view of the first mas­ter­pieces of the es­tate of Ger­man col­lec­tor Cor­nelius Gurlitt at the Mu­seum of Fine Arts Bern in Bern. — AFP photos

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