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Stolen Klee paintings recovered by Basel police

"Der Niesen" by Paul Klee

Complex legal problems could arise following the recovery of two Paul Klee watercolours, stolen 25 years ago from the fine arts museum - Kunstmuseum - in Bern.

The 1915 paintings, "The Niesen" and "With the brown camel", were confiscated by police in Basel when a German lawyer brought them to the city to make contact with the company with which they had been insured.

A spokesman for the Basel city authorities, Markus Meltzl, said the lawyer was acting on behalf of members of a family in Germany who inherited the paintings from their father.

Meltzl told swissinfo that the inheritors were seeking - through the lawyer - to resell the watercolours to the Kunstmuseum for the same price their father had paid for them in 1980: "The lawyer was informed by the museum that it had been reimbursed for their value by a Basel insurance company."

The Kunstmuseum told Basel police of the attempt to return the pictures to Switzerland and in the meantime the lawyer made contact with the insurance company.

"Under Swiss law, the statute of limitations applies to this case," said Meltzl, "so after so many years there can be no question of a criminal investigation and we may never know the identity of the thieves.

"In any case, because he has died we will also never know if the buyer purchased the pictures in good faith. Our view is that it is now a matter of the insurance company and the Kunstmuseum coming to some sort of an agreement so that the watercolours can be returned to Bern."

It is likely that both paintings will eventually hang alongside Klee's other works in the Kunstmuseum's collection, when a new Paul Klee Centre is opened on the city's outskirts in 2005.

The painter - who had German nationality - was born near Bern in 1879 and died there after spending most of his life in the city. The future centre will house the world's biggest collection of works by Klee, who is regarded as one of the 20th century's most original and influential artists.

by Richard Dawson


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