One of the First Restituted Works from Gurlitt Collection to be Sold
05/29/2015This blog has previously covered the twisting tale of the Gurlitt Collection, a cache of hundreds of artworks discovered in Germany and Austria a few years ago in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of an art dealer authorized by the Nazis to deal in art confiscated, looted, or deemed “degenerate art” by Hitler’s regime. The art world has fiercely debated the best way to handle the collection, a daunting task that was further complicated when Gurlitt himself died last May and bequeathed his entire estate to the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland.
In our last post on the Gurlitt saga, we reported on the criticism being levied at the Kunstmuseum Bern (as well as the German and Austrian governments) due to what some believe is unreasonable delay in investigating and restituting works from the collection. We also noted that Gurlitt’s will had been challenged by his cousin, although an initial court decision ruled that his bequest to the Kunstmuseum Bern should be upheld.
In mid-May, two works from the Collection were finally returned to the heirs of their rightful owners after months of negotiations. A Matisse painting entitled “Seated Woman” was handed over to the descendants of Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg. Around the same time, a Max Liebermann painting, “Two Riders on the Beach,” was returned to David Toren, the 90-year-old great-nephew of its original owner, a Jewish industrialist who was forced to sign his home over to the Nazis.
Last week, Mr. Toren announced that he and his co-heirs plan to sell “Two Riders” at a Sotheby’s auction on June 24 in London. He extolled the “personal significance” of the work’s return, but explained that he is now blind and cannot enjoy the painting’s beauty personally. Sotheby’s has placed an initial estimate on the work of £350,000-550,000 (roughly $525,000-$850,000).
Meanwhile, it has been reported that an appellate court in Germany has asked for more information about Gurlitt’s capacity to make a will during the last months of his life; while the significance of this request remains to be seen, it does suggest that perhaps the will contest brought by Gurlitt’s cousin is not over yet. If the Kunstmuseum Bern’s ownership of the collection is overturned, that would halt the museum’s already belabored efforts to restitute more works to families who lost them in the years surrounding World War II. We will continue to provide updates as the situation unfolds.
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