BERLIN (Reuters) - Over two years after the discovery of missing masterpieces looted by the Nazis from their Jewish owners, German officials and a Swiss museum are expected to confirm on Monday that the paintings will go to Switzerland.
The Bern Art Museum discovered in May it had been named sole heir of Cornelius Gurlitt, the recluse who kept the collection of 1,280 artworks hidden for decades until tax inspectors stumbled upon them on a visit to his Munich apartment in 2012.
Gurlitt died in May at the age of 81. The trove of Modernist and Renaissance masterpieces, which includes works by Chagall and Picasso, was assembled by his father Hildebrand, an art dealer charged with selling what Hitler called “degenerate” art.
The World Jewish Congress has warned the museum it risks an “avalanche” of lawsuits if it accepts the works. To limit the legal risks, the museum may leave some pieces in Germany until their origin has been determined, according to media reports.
German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters and Christoph Schaeublin, president of the museum’s foundation board, are due to hold a news conference in Berlin on Monday to explain their decision.
Before his death, Gurlitt agreed to let a task force research the works of suspicious provenance to determine if any of the art had been stolen or extorted from its original owners.
Accepting disputed artwork is a delicate matter in Switzerland, whose reputation took a severe blow in the late 1990s when it emerged that its central bank had purchased huge amounts of gold from Germany during World War Two and that its banks had never returned money in dormant Jewish deposits.
After a series of lawsuits and a media campaign in the United States that severely strained U.S.-Swiss relations, Swiss banks ended up paying $1.2 billion in compensation in 1998.
In a recent twist, a cousin of Gurlitt challenged his will by applying for a certificate of inheritance at the Munich court that is handling the estate. But it remained unclear whether the move would affect the decision of the museum.
Additional reporting by Silke Koltrowitz and Joshua Franklin in Bern; Editing by Tom Heneghan; Editing by Noah Barkin