Art Collector Cornelius Gurlitt Wrote Second Will

Wall Street Journal 13 May 2014
By Mary M. Lane

People Familiar With the Document Say It Makes No Major Changes to His Bequests

Berlin - Art collector Cornelius Gurlitt wrote a second will before his death last week, a Munich court said on Tuesday, though people familiar with the document said it still designated a Swiss museum as heir to much of his art trove.

In his only known testament, written in January, Mr. Gurlitt, then 81, bequeathed his entire estate, including some 1,400 artworks, many of which were stolen from Jews by the Nazis, to the Kunstmuseum in Bern.

However, the Munich district court said it had received a second will, notarized in February, the content of which it didn't disclose. Both wills were opened last Thursday by the same notary in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg and sent to the court, where they arrived on Tuesday.

"They came to us second, through the post, and the notary didn't inform us of them prior to when the mail came," Gerhard Zierl, the president of the Munich court, told The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Gurlitt signed an agreement with the Bavarian and German governments in April, pledging to return all Nazi loot in his trove to the families of their original owners. Since this document also binds his heirs, whoever inherits the trove should make little difference to the families of Holocaust victims who had sought to reclaim pieces in the collection.

Matthias Henkel, spokesman for the task force of experts appointed by the government to research the trove, told The Wall Street Journal the existence of a second will did "not change anything. The agreement Mr. Gurlitt signed remains valid. We will work cooperatively with his heirs, whoever they are."

Two people familiar with the documents said the most recent will supplemented the first and was "a small gesture" to relatives who had assisted Mr. Gurlitt as his health deteriorated in his last months.

One of the few relatives with any close contact to Mr. Gurlitt in recent years was Nikolaus Fräßle, his late sister's husband, who regularly visited the ailing collector at his hospital in Ludwigsburg earlier this year.

In addition to his collection, Mr. Gurlitt's estate included property in Munich and Salzburg, Austria, as well as prewar furniture and artworks by his relatives which aren't part of his art trove.

Mr. Gurlitt's collection, inherited from his father, a Nazi-era dealer, was discovered and seized by German justice officials two years ago in the course of a tax investigation. But its existence was only made public last November in a German media report.

The collection included pieces by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, many of them stolen from Jews under the Nazis.

Last Wednesday, the the Munich court said in a statement announcing the death of Mr. Gurlitt that it had asked the notary to provide it with a copy of Mr. Gurlitt's then only known will. The court had placed Mr. Gurlitt under the tutelage of a guardian in December. The court revealed when the wills arrived that there were two, rather than one.

Any relative of Mr. Gurlitt who would have been entitled to a share of his estate but was not mentioned in the will would be informed about the document, the court said, and would have two weeks to oppose its execution before the court.
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