The Kunstmuseum Bern, the Swiss capital’s fine arts museum, has sold a painting by Édouard Manet from its controversial Gurlitt collection to Tokyo for $4 million (CHF4 million). The proceeds are intended to help get the museum out of the red.
The French Impressionist’s 1873 painting, Marine, Temps d’orage (Stormy Sea), was most recently exhibited as a loan at the National Museum of Western Artexternal link (NMWA) in Tokyo.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the painting belonged to a Japanese industrialist who lived in Paris. During his time in Europe, he built up a large art collection, including a whole series of masterpieces of French Impressionism with which he wanted to found a museum in Japan.
For financial and political reasons he had to return to Japan and give up his project of founding a museum. He left about 400 works of art behind in Paris.
When the Nazis occupied Paris in 1940, the collection was housed near Paris, where a retired Japanese naval officer represented the interests of his compatriot. To cover the costs of storing the collection, the naval officer sold 20 works from the collection, including Marine, Temps d’orage.
The painting then came into the possession of Hildebrand Gurlitt, one of four art dealers appointed by the Nazis to sell confiscated art abroad.
France returned the remaining works to Japan in 1959. This resulted in the foundation of the NMWA.
The Kunstmuseum Bernexternal link inherited Marine, Temps d’orage as part of the Gurlitt collection – more than 1,500 works found in 2012 in the two homes of Hildebrand Gurlitt’s reclusive son, Cornelius.
When Cornelius Gurlitt died in 2014, he surprised the art world by naming the Kunstmuseum Bern sole heir of his collection, which included works by Rembrandt, Renoir, Chagall, Picasso, Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec. The museum thought for a few months about whether to accept the collection, before eventually saying it would.
The provenance of the Manet painting could be “determined unambiguously” through the corresponding sales documents, the museum announced on Friday. “It has thus been proven that the Manet painting is demonstrably or with high probability not Nazi-looted art,” it added.
The Kunstmuseum Bern said it had stipulated that it would have the right to sell works from the collection “in the event that the settlement of the Gurlitt inheritance results in an untenable financial burden”. This now appears to be the case.
The proceeds from the sale will cover the Kunstmuseum Bern’s current deficit of around CHF4 million.
The museum said the shortfall was due to the legal and consultancy costs, expenditure on provenance research, restoration work and processing of claims connected to the Gurlitt legacy. There was also the organisation of two exhibitions in 2017 and 2018.
The museum stressed that it “does not want to profit financially” from the Gurlitt collection. Rather, it had committed to using any surplus from the sale “exclusively for further provenance research on the Gurlitt legacy”.