Cornelius Gurlitt (art collector)

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Cornelius Gurlitt
Born (1932-12-28)28 December 1932
Hamburg, Germany
Died (2014-05-06)6 May 2014
Munich, Germany
Nationality German
Occupation Art collector

Cornelius Gurlitt (28 December 1932 – 6 May 2014) was a German art collector whose father, Hildebrand Gurlitt was red flagged by the Art Looting Intelligence Unit for dealing in Nazi looted art.[1] His mother was Helene née Hanke. He grew up in the Dammtor district of Hamburg with his sister Renate, who was born there in 1935. His great-grandmother was Jewish, which caused his father to be labelled as a "quarter-Jew" under the Nazi race laws in the Volkszählung vom 17. Mai 1939, or so-called "German Minority Census" of 1939.[2]

In 2012, during a tax investigation of Gurlitt, German customs officials obtained a warrant to search his apartment in the Schwabing district of Munich, and discovered 1,406 works of art worth an estimated €1 billion. The collection included masterpieces by Renoir, Matisse, Otto Dix and many other famous artists. These works of art are alleged to have been stolen by the Nazis, and were later returned to the possession of Hildebrand Gurlitt. They were subsequently inherited by his son Cornelius. Whether his family has any knowledge of these artworks being allegedly stolen is not known, but extensive reports in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper state that Gurlitt lived "like a hermit" and refused entry to his apartment / art storage depot "even to close members of his family."[3]

In November 2013, the German magazine Der Spiegel revealed that they had received a letter from Gurlitt telling them that "the name Gurlitt may not appear in your magazine." Gurlitt then told two reporters from the Paris Match, who confronted him in a Munich supermarket, that "Applause from the wrong side is the worst thing there is." Der Spiegel found this comment "puzzling."[4]

Gurlitt died on 6 May 2014 at the age of 81. The will he wrote on his deathbed unexpectedly named a small museum in Switzerland, the Museum of Fine Arts Bern (German: Kuntsmuseum Bern), as his "sole heir". People close to Gurlitt told an American newspaper that he decided to give the collection to a foreign institution because he felt that Germany had treated him and his father badly.[5] Gurlitt's decision created further controversy over the appropriateness of the museum accepting this bequest. The will stipulated that the museum would be required to research the provenance of the paintings and make restitution as appropriate.[6] The museum decided to accept those works which are not legally the property of previous Nazi-era owners, or their heirs, and has entered into a joint-agreement with German and Swiss authorities about the handling of this bequest. Gurlitt's family (cousins) also entered the discussion, raising questions about the legality of the will, based on his state of mind at the time. The process of winding up the Gurlitt estate has proceeded.

Some of the artworks have been returned to the heirs of the legitimate owners, notably a portrait by Matisse restored to the heirs of French art dealer Paul Rosenberg. Another major painting from the collection, Two Riders on a Beach (1901), by Max Liebermann, was returned to the heirs of the German-Jewish industrialist and art collector David Friedmann,[7] and sold at auction in June 2015.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Looted Art: Art Looting Intelligence Unit (ALIU) Reports 1945-1946 and ALIU Red Flag Names List and Index.
  2. ^ This "German Minority Census" is available in digital form at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum Resource Center in Washington D.C. and at the German Federal Archives in Berlin-Lichterfelde. An unsourced copy of the database was published online by the Holocaust Era Assets and Restitution Taskforce.
  3. ^ Süddeutsche Zeitung, full-page reports in the "Feuilleton" section of the newspaper in the week of 4–8 November 2013.
  4. ^ Der Spiegel, 11 November 2013 (in German).
  5. ^ Lane, Mary M. (November 20, 2014). "Swiss Museum Close to Accepting Trove of Nazi Art". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 13 March 2016.  The legacy included the paintings Gurlitt had kept in Salzburg, paintings which German authorities had not confiscated because their remit did not extend to property held in Austria.
  6. ^ Lane, p. A12.
  7. ^ Eddy, Melissa (May 15, 2015). "Matisse From Gurlitt Collection Is Returned to Jewish Art Dealer’s Heirs". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-12-19.
  8. ^ Holmes, Ruth (June 24, 2015). "Nazi-looted painting from Munich fetches close to $3m". Times of Israel. Retrieved 2016-12-19.