Hundreds of priceless works of art, hidden for decades by the son of a Nazi art dealer, are due to be unveiled to the public in twin exhibitions in Germany and Switzerland next week, for the first time in years.
About 1,500 pieces by Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Otto Dix and Gustave Courbet, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, were discovered in the homes of Cornelius Gurlitt.
The reclusive art lover – son of “degenerate” art historian and dealer for the Third Reich Hildebrand Gurlitt, who sold paintings and sculptures to raise money for the Nazi regime – inherited the vast collection following his father’s death in Düsseldorf in 1956.
In 2012, during a tax-evasion investigation, 121 framed and 1,285 unframed artworks were confiscated by Bavarian authorities from Cornelius’s homes in Munich and Salzburg on suspicion of having been looted by the Nazis during World War II.
The seizure was described at the time as being the biggest artistic find of the postwar era. Largely undamaged, the collection contains Old Masters as well as Impressionist, Cubist, and Expressionist paintings.
By April 2014, an agreement had been reached whereby the collection would be returned to Gurlitt in exchange for his cooperation with a government task force charged with returning stolen pieces to their rightful owners.
However, Gurlitt died less than a month later, bequeathing all his property to the Museum of Fine Arts Bern in Switzerland after all legitimate claims of ownership against it had been evaluated.
Kunstmuseum Bern and the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn will now present the works in two parallel shows entitled “Gurlitt Status Report,” which open November 3 and are expected to draw art aficionados from around the world.
“For the first time, the public will be given an insight into these works of art that have been talked about in the news so much as a sensational find and a treasure trove,” said Nina Zimmer, curator of the Bern exhibition.
The Bern exhibition will tell the story of modern art, which was outlawed by the Nazis under the “degenerate art action” of 1937 and 1938 and led to the confiscation of more than 23,000 paintings, sculptures and prints from public galleries across Germany.
The Bundeskunsthalle will concentrate on works stolen from their owners as part of the Nazi persecution. The intention is to highlight the fate of the persecuted, mostly Jewish art collectors and dealers, while juxtaposing their individual histories with biographies of the Nazi perpetrators.