Nazi art theft exhibition puts stolen masterpieces on display

Expatica 19 April 2018

The second part of an extraordinary exhibition showing off art stolen under the Nazi regime, has opened in Bern. The show is made up of works from a mass collection of masterpiecesdiscovered after a chance raidon the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of a Nazi art dealer.

The priceless treasure trove of thousands of pieces was uncovered by tax authorities in Gurlitt’s small flat in Munich in 2012. Gurlitt had inherited the tainted collection from his father and had been living off the profits by quietly selling individual pieces.

When Gurlitt died in 2014, he left the entire collection to the Bern Museum of Fine Arts, in a move that took the institution completely by surprise.

The collection on show

The resulting show was divided into two parts, both of which opened in late 2017 in two different cities; Bern and Bonn.

Last year in Bern, the Museum of Fine Arts ran an exhibition focusing on pieces that were labelled by the Nazi regime as "degenerate art". This has now moved to Bonn. Bonn’s original exhibition, focusing on Nazi art theft, is now in Bern.

‘Nazi art theft and its consequences’

This second part of the exhibition, "Gurlitt Status report part 2: Nazi art theft and its consequences",looks into the role played by Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius’ father.

Despite being Jewish on his mother’s side, he became an art dealer to the Nazis, and was even commissioned to purchase pieces for Hitler’s ‘Führermuseum’ (an art museum complex that was never built).

What’s in the collection?

The Gurlitt collection is made up of 1,557 worksincludingpaintings, sculptures, prints and drawings by the likes ofHenri Matisse, Max Liebermann, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Otto Dix and Edgar Degas.

According to the Bern Museum of Fine Art, six of the pieces are looted art, four have been restituted to date, and at present there are 61 suspect cases, as of April 18, 2018.

These pieces were bought from Jewish families for a fraction of their estimated value, or acquired under duress.

Of the 130 artworks that are now on display, the Bern museum said it is “exhibiting all the artworks under suspicion of being unlawfully expropriated as loans”. It includes some pieces that have already been restituted but have been loaned back to the museum for this exhibition.

The artists featured include Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin and Otto Dix.
© website copyright Central Registry 2021