Curiouser and Curiouser: Still More Gurlitt Paintings Found, Nazi-Looting Connections Unknown

Art Law Report 25 July 2014
By Nicholas O'Donnell

As if the Cornelius/Hildebrand Gurlitt saga needed any more complications as the world awaits the official decision by the Kunstmuseum Bern about whether to accept the appointment as Cornelius Gurlitt’s heir, even more artwork has apparently turned up.  Der Spiegel, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and the Wall Street Journal have reported that one picture and several sculptures in the very apartment from which the original trove was seized more than two years ago.  Among the sculptures are apparently a Degas and a Rodin.  Nothing else seems known about the works or their ownership history, or whether they might be among works that Hildebrand Gurlitt sold or acquired as “degenerate” (side note: the Victoria and Albert Museum’s copy of the Degenerate Art Action register is currently on display in New York at the Neue Galerie’s exhibition of that title.  While it is available online, it is most certainly worth a visit before the show ends).

Although in the execution it is not as hard as it would seem to understand how this could happen—the authorities presumably did not return to the apartment after the initial seizure—it raises any number of questions about the ongoing deal that Gurlitt made with prosecutors before he died.  For example, and most obviously, why didn’t Gurlitt himself disclose the existence of these works, which are hardly inconsequential?  The universe of objects in his possession is a fairly material aspect of that agreement; if Gurlitt misstated or omitted anything of significance, it could call the agreement itself into question.  Will this affect the Kunstmuseum Bern’s interest?  Presumably as the museum considers the pros and cons, the possibility that works will occasionally pop up and renew the controversy may be something the trustees would rather not deal with.

Lastly, it underscores the ongoing concern with the practicability of the deal.  In the first few months of the one-year deadline, the Task Force has announced only one conclusion, that Matisse’s Sitting Woman should be returned to the heirs of Paul Rosenberg.  As many experts have decried, that time limit seemed inadequate from the start.  If more works continue to be added to the list (and it is not yet clear whether these will be, or addede to the database), it will be all the more so.
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