Cornelius Gurlitt, the now infamous art dealer, who hoarded Nazi looted masterpieces, discovered in 2012, was of sound mind when he donated his extensive art collection, to a Swiss museum. A Munich court threw out claims, in an inheritance case brought forward by relatives of the deceased octogenarian. In November 2014, the museum accepted the donation, but the decision was challenged by the family. It is also thought that many of the works were stolen from Holocaust victims. A 146-page medical document, read out in court today (Tuesday 22 December) has denied Gurlitt’s cousin and next of kin Uta Werner an easy ride to claiming the collection. She has until 1st February to make a counter claim.
The Gurlitt collection consists of more than 1,500 paintings, drawings, and prints by artists including German Expressionists Franz Marc, Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Dix and French artists, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir and Monet. The collection was only revealed when Mr Gurlitt was stopped coming through customs with a large amount of cash. It resulted in the raid of his flat. Ronald Lauder, Director and founder of the Neue Gallery in New York called the collection “the last prisoners of World War II”.
In 2013 the German Government, who is perceived as being far too lax about Nazi restituted art set up the Schwabing Art Trove Task Force to scrutinise the collection for possible looted artworks. To date only five artworks have been identified as stolen and claimed by their rightful owners. The task force has until 15 January to wrap up their findings, however the Jewish Claims Conference has criticised the taskforce for being next to useless. Even German Culture Minister Monika Grütters has expressed dismay at the lack of results made by the committee.
Cornelius Gurlitt (1932-2014) was born in Hamburg to Hildebrand Gurlitt (1895-1956), one of four official art dealers for the Nazis, and Helene Gurlitt (1895-1968), a dancer. He had one sister, Renate, known as Benita, (1935-2012). Hildebrand was the first German museum director to be fired for championing the “degenerate” branded art but was subsequently accused of being a Nazi collaborator by the Allies after the war. He died in a car crash in 1956 at the age of 61.