Installation in the exhibition Gurlitt Status Report: “Degenerate Art” – Confiscated and sold, Kunstmuseum Bern, 3.11.2017 – 11.3.2018, detail. © Kunstmuseum Bern, David Oester.
Cornelius Gurlitt’s (1932 – 2014) art collection first became known through the media as “Schwabinger Kunstfund” [Schwabing Art Trove]. In 2012 some 1,200 artworks were confiscated from Gurlitt’s Munich apartment during the course of a tax-investigation. When, shortly after, more artworks were found in Gurlitt’s Salzburg house, the number of objects increased to some 1,600.
Because Cornelius Gurlitt's father, the art historian Hildebrand Gurlitt (1895 – 1956), collaborated with the National Socialist regime as an art dealer, the check for Nazi-looted art was the obvious.
Cornelius Gurlitt was one of the first private collectors in Germany who agreed to a systematic tracing of the ownership of his collection and restitute Nazi-looted artworks according to the Washington Principles (1998) and the Gemeinsame Erklärung [Common Statement] (1999).
In November 2013, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Free State of Bavaria assigned the provenance research to the “Schwabing Art Trove Taskforce.” “The Gurlitt Provenance Research Project”, under the auspices of the German Lost Art Foundation, executed its clarification work from January 2016 until December 2017. The remaining research and documentation was carried out by the follow-up project, “Reviews, Dokumentation und anlassbezogene Forschungsarbeiten zum Kunstfund Gurlitt [Reviews, Documentation and Issue-Related Research of the Gurlitt Art Trove]” (2018) and “Publikation und Ergebnisdokumentation zum Kunstfund Gurlitt [Publication and Results Documentation of the Gurlitt Art Trove]” (2019). Since 2020, the Kunstverwaltung des Bundes (Federal Republic of Germany) is one of the contacts for research related questions.
Cornelius Gurlitt died on 6 May 2014. In his will, he named the Kunstmuseum Bern Foundation sole beneficiary.
With the acceptance of the Gurlitt bequest, the Kunstmuseum Bern has undertaken a historical responsibility. This includes:
The corresponding conditions and methods have been defined in the Agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany, the Free State of Bavaria and the Stiftung Kunstmuseum Bern of
24 November 2014.
The Kunstmuseum’s newly created Provenance Research Department has continued research on the Gurlitt Estate since 2018. As soon as the project funded by the Federal Republic of Germany were closed on 31 December 2019, the Kunstmuseum Bern resumed its research.
The Gurlitt legacy includes high-quality examples of French art, outstanding works of German Expressionism as well as paintings and sketches formerly belonging to the family by the artists Heinrich Ludwig Theodor Gurlitt (1812 – 1897) and Cornelia Gurlitt (1890 – 1919). All artworks and artefacts are documented in THE GURLITT ESTATE database.
The Kunstmuseum Bern has transferred ownership of the documentary estate of Cornelius Gurlitt to the Federal Republic of Germany as a gift, in accordance with the Agreement of 24 November 2014. These documents are available to the public in the Bundesarchiv [Federal Archives].
Nine artworks from the Gurlitt Estate have been returned to the heirs of their rightful owners by March 2021.