Swiss museum publishes list of Nazi loot art trove

Thu Nov 27, 2014 1:30pm EST
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ZURICH (Reuters) - A Swiss museum published a list on Thursday of all the art found in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt, a German recluse whose secret collection included masterpieces looted from their Jewish owners by the Nazis.

The Bern Art Museum was named as sole heir to the collection and on Monday reluctantly accepted the bequest, making clear that it would adopt a policy of total transparency to head off any criticism over its decision to take in the artwork.

"We have promised transparency and are now acting accordingly," Matthias Frehner, director of the Kunstmuseum Bern, said in a statement.

Gurlitt's collection of over 1,200 artworks had been hidden away for decades until German tax inspectors stumbled upon it during a raid on his Munich apartment in 2012. A government task force identified three pieces that were indisputably looted by the Nazis which would be returned to the heirs.

Bern Art Museum has said it will not accept any piece which experts believed might have been stolen and by publishing the full list it hopes it might still discover the rightful owners.

Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to shake-off its reputation as a haven for ill-gotten gains, and the museum is anxious to avoid the legal risks associated with accepting disputed art works.

The 196-page list published on the museum website catalogues all the works that were found in Gurlitt's flat in Munich and at his house in Salzburg. Among the notable pieces are Henri Matisse's Seated Woman from circa 1924, oriental drawings from Eugene Delacroix and a landscape from Gustave Courbet.

The treasure trove of Modernist and Renaissance masters was assembled by Gurlitt's father Hildebrand, a dealer charged with selling what Adolf Hitler dismissed as "degenerate art."

The museum said the list remained a "work in progress" and that it would continue to add further details in the course of its investigations.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

Christoph Schaeublin of the Bern Art Museum gives interviews after signing a contract on the collection from the late Cornelius Gurlitt in Berlin November 24, 2014. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke