Gurlitt Task Force Issues Fourth Restitution Recommendation in 14 Months

Art Law Report 6 April 2015
By Nicholas O'Donnell

Shortly after reports that two of the objects found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s possession in 2012 would “be restituted “soon” to the families from which they were looted under Nazi auspices pursuant to the three recommendations of the Gurlitt Task Force to date, the Task Force has now issued a fourth recommendation. The newest work to be identified for restitution is a Camille Pissarro painting, The Seine seen from the Pont-Neuf, the Louvre in the background.

There is still no official recommendation posted, either to the website where the first three decisions are available, nor to the website of the German Cultural Property Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Kulturgutverluste). An explanation is available, however, on the homepage of Germany’s Minister of Culture, Monika Grütters. Minister Grütters is quoted as saying (my translation):

It is very important to me to return the work as soon as possible. Again, it is less about the material component and much more about the recognition of family history. Following the decision of the District Court of Munich confirming the Kunstmuseum Bern as heir, I hope that the dispute over heirship will be resolved soon. Restitution and the work of the Task Force can then be carried out free from legal disputes between heirs and in accordance with the victims and their ancestors.

You’ll forgive my skepticism about recognition of family history from the Ministry of Culture and agencies under that office, but on its face this is positive. One also has to wonder, however, why must the Ministry has to “hope“ rather than “do,“ though that may be because this work is not in the possession of the German government. According to the lists published by the Kunstmuseum Bern, this Pissarro was one of the works found in Salzburg, a trove discovered later. There was for a time more uncertainty about that set of works, and it remains unclear where they are today.

One hopes that perhaps the resolution (for now) of the will challenge by Gurlitt’s cousin Uta Werner presages other decisions like this, though the Ministry clearly is waiting for final resolution and/or appeal before going too much further forward. But the fact remains that the pace remains inscrutable, and for potential claimants, the much-improved website of the Task Force is still entirely (as far as I can see) in German. The site has become a decent resource, but if I didn’t speak German it would be useless to me. The fact is that very few survivors and/or claimants are still in Germany (if they ever were). Posting information that is unaccessible to them does little good.
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