Zurich looted art probe “hapless”, says Swiss expert

Swissinfo 14 September 2022

A Swiss art expert has slammed the investigation of suspected Nazi looted artworks at a collection in Zurich as “unprofessional” and “hapless”.

Lawyer Marcel Brülhart, who is on the board of the Bern Museum of Fine Arts foundation, made his comments in reference to a controversial collection of the late Swiss industrialist Emil Bührle, which is on display at Zurich’s Kunsthaus museum.

The Bührle collection remains at the centre of controversy after years of debate. A renowned constitutional lawyer has recently been appointed to chair a new committee to look into the matter.

Speaking to the Tamedia media group on Wednesday, Brülhart said the ongoing saga of looted art is “becoming a burden for Switzerland”. He reserved his strongest criticism for the handling of the Bührle case.

“What is going on in Zurich is unprofessional. No-one has the courage to make a decision in the Bührle case, neither the Kunsthaus or the city and cantonal authorities,” he said. “I've been asked abroad whether the Kunsthaus Zurich is an anti-Semitic museum.”

He called the creation of a new committee to look into the Bührle question as “hapless” and a “waste of time”.

The Kunsthaus Zurich faced condemnation for its decision last year to display the Bührle collection to the public.

Emil Georg Bührle, who died in 1956, made his fortune by selling arms to Germany during World War II, bought art that was looted by the Nazis, and profited from slave labour. Most of his collection is now held by the Bührle Foundation.

Neither Kunsthaus Zurich nor the Zurich city mayor’s office would respond directly to Brülhart’s comments. A Kunsthaus spokesperson said its exhibition is contributing to public debate and that museum has taken on responsibility for researching the provenance of the controversial artworks.

The Bern Museum of Fine Arts is also grappling with the issue of looted art, particularly a collection it inherited from Cornelius Gurlitt, son of one of Hitler’s dealers.

Brülhart said the Bern museum has made much greater progress in researching the provenance of the artworks. Last year, two paintings were returned to the heirs of their previous owners .
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