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Gurlitt collection Nazi-looted painting restituted to Jewish heirs in Germany

Thomas Couture painting

"Portrait of a seated woman" by Thomas Couture was returned by a Swiss museum to the heirs of its previous owner

(Mick Vincenz © Kunstmuseum Bern / Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH)

A Thomas Couture painting looted by the Nazis that ended up in the “Gurlitt collection”, later inherited by the Kunstmuseum Bern, has been returned by Germany to the heirs of French Jewish politician and resistance leader Georges Mandel. 

German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters presented “The portrait of a seated woman” painted by 19th century French artist Thomas Couture (1815-1879) to Mandel’s family members in a ceremony at the Martin Gropius Bau museum in Berlin on Tuesdayexternal link

In 2017, experts had confirmed that the painting had been looted from Mandel, who was assassinated in 1944. His partner had cited a small hole in the canvas as evidence when she reported it stolen after the war. 

Gruetters was accompanied on Tuesday by a representative of the Kunstmuseum Bern, which inherited Gurlitt's collection when he died in 2014, and an envoy from the French embassy. 

More than 1,500 works were discovered in 2012 in the possession of Munich pensioner Cornelius Gurlitt. His father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, had worked as an art dealer for the Nazis since 1938. 

In a surprise move, Cornelius Gurlitt bequeathed his collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern in May 2014. About 500 works remained in Germany for a government task force to research their origins. But determining their provenance has been slow. 

The Couture portrait was the fifth work from the collection restituted to heirs, and the sixth definitively classed as having been looted by the Nazis.

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