The Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland will return several works donated by the late dealer Cornelius Gurlitt, who several years ago became the subject of one of the most widely publicized Nazi art theft cases.
The 1,600-piece Gurlitt hoard has been the subject of controversy since 2014, when it entered the museum’s holdings following the dealer’s death that year. That trove includes works by Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and others, and Gurlitt inherited it from his father, a dealer and museum director who collaborated with the Nazis. Bavarian authorities first became aware of the cache’s provenance two years prior during a tax investigation.
After a six-month deliberation period, the Swiss institution accepted the collection in 2014. They entered an agreement with the German government and Bavarian state authorities to return any works with questionable provenance records, adhering to the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.
The museum has now identified 29 works from the Gurlitt cache whose World War II–era provenance cannot be fully traced. The museum said that, for these works, despite there being no evidence of them having ever been handled by the Nazis recovered during a years-long research effort, their ownership records still represent “conspicuous circumstances.”
From this group, two watercolors by Otto Dix, Dompteuse (1922) and Dame in der Loge (1922), will be jointly returned to the heirs of German Jewish collectors Ismar Littmann and Paul Schaefer. Another five will be transferred to the German government. The 22 remaining works from this grouping will remain in the museum’s collection for further research. New findings related to them will be published in an online database on the Gurlitt collection managed by the museum.
“For the Kunstmuseum Bern, dealing with the legacy of Cornelius Gurlitt has been and still is a major challenge and everyone involved is dedicated to handling it correctly,” the museum’s director, Nina Zimmer, said in a statement. “I’m particularly thrilled about the international networks and collaboration in the area of provenance research that have arisen in the past few years. This is the path we have to stick to going forward—we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
It’s not the first time the Kunstmuseum Bern has parted ways with works it gained through the Gurlitt donation. By May 2020, 14 works from the collection, including paintings by Henri Matisse, Thomas Couture, and Max Liebermann, had been identified as having been stolen and were restituted to descendants of their original owners.