The Munich Higher Regional Court has ruled in favour of the last will and testament of the estate of the art dealer Cornelius Gurlitt and now the controversial art collection will go to the Kunstmuseum in Bern. The will was involved in a dispute with Gurlitt’s cousin Uta Werner, who had stated that the elderly recluse was mentally unfit to draw up a will.
The court’s decision wraps up months of speculation concerning the collection containing over 1,500 works and valued at 100m euros. Art by Monet, Cézanne, Kirchner, Dix, Munch Pissarro, and Matisse. was inherited by the deceased from his father, Hildebrand was a notorious Nazi collaborator who was commissioned by Hitler to confiscate Jewish-owned art as well as degenerate art held in public collections. The cache of art was discovered in his Munich apartment as well as his home in Salzburg, after being stopped by customs on a return visit to Switzerland.
The Munich Court decided that Gurlitt may have been delusional on occasion, but it was not convinced he “suffered from delusions that removed his testamentary capacity” at the time he wrote his will on 9 January 2014. The fact that he wrote it before undergoing a life-threatening operation “rather signals that he was very much in a position to take measured and sensible decisions,” the court stated.
Gurlitt died of heart failure on 6 May 2014, after undergoing an operation. His entire estate was bequeathed to the Bern Kunstmuseum. Over the last eighteen months, the portfolio of artwork has been housed in an art warehouse near Munich while the courts weighed up the challenge to the will.
His cousin, Werner said she regretted the court’s decision and believed Gurlitt’s deluded conviction that he had to save his art from the Nazis led to his decision to bequeath it to a Swiss institution instead of keeping it in Germany. Her lawyers said they will examine the decision and hold discussions with the family before deciding whether to take further steps.
The Bern Kunstmuseum statedit welcomed the decision “with joy and relief”. It said the ruling allows the museum to cooperate with the Magdeburg-based German Lost Art Foundation in researching the provenance of the art, a task it anticipates will take until the end of 2017.
“It is good that we now all have clarity,” German Culture Minister Monika Grütters said in a statement. She said the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn and the Kunstmuseum in Bern can forge ahead with plans for a joint exhibition in 2017. The aim of the exhibition will be to put the collection in its historical context, including an exploration of the biographies of the Jewish victims of Nazi looting, she said.