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Bern museum to give up 29 works from Gurlitt collection

painting
“Paar, 1924” by German painter Hans Christoph, during a 2018 Gurlitt exposition in Bern. ¬© Keystone / Anthony Anex

The Bern Museum of Fine Arts has said it will relinquish works bequeathed by controversial collector Cornelius Gurlitt when their provenance is linked to “conspicuous circumstances”. However, the museum will retain most of the 1,600-strong trove.

In 2014, the Bern museum was named as sole heir to the trove of art collector Gurlitt, who had himself inherited the collection from his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt (1895-1956), an official art dealer for Adolf Hitler.

After years of research and restitutions of works to the descendants of looted Jewish owners, the museum on Friday announced its decision with regard to art whose provenance was still ambiguous or had gaps in ownership history.

Concretely, the museum will “give up its ownership of any works of unclarified provenance that may lack specific evidence of being Nazi-looted art but for which implications of looted art and/or conspicuous circumstances exist”, it said in a press releaseExternal link.

‘Taking stock’

There are 29 such works in that category: the museum proposed that two watercolours by German artist Otto Dix be transferred jointly to the descendants of two possible rightful owners, while another five will be handed over to German authorities. The remaining 22 will remain at the museum for further research. Meanwhile, the museum will hold onto almost 1,100 works of uncertain origin, but for which there is no proof of either Nazi looting or suspect circumstances.

The Bern institution meanwhile plans to put on an exhibition in autumn 2022 with the title “Taking Stock: Gurlitt in Review”.

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