The New York Times recently reported that Germany
will fund an additional year of research to establish the
provenance of art works from the vast collection of the late Cornelius Gurlitt. Gurlitt was a reclusive
Munich art collector who had amassed a collection of 1,500 art
works acquired by his father who was a dealer for the Nazis.
The Gurlitt task force appointed by Germany's
culture minister had been established after the collection surfaced
in 2013. After a nearly $2 million investigation over two years, it
was announced by the task force earlier this year that it had
identified the rightful owners of just five of the art works whose
provenance was uncertain.
As time passes by with fewer survivors from the Nazi era, it has
become increasingly difficult for Germany to carry out provenance
research and restitution. The passing of Mr. Gurlitt in May 2014
also complicated the task force's restitution efforts. In
particular, there are two sides to a restitution claim in cases
where there is a museum and a claimant, but there is only one side
in the Gurlitt case because Mr. Gurlitt is no longer living. As
such, German researchers are tasked with the responsibility to
conduct essentially flawless, but slow provenance work on the
The task force completed its provenance and restitution work at
the end of last year and its report was released in January of this
year. The complete report of the task force can be accessed online
in German with a summary in English.
The Center for Lost Art in Magdeburg is now tasked with the
responsibility for the Gurlitt collection in which a staff of 20
will be expanded, if there is a need. The German culture
minister's total budget for provenance research is about $6.5
million, which is three times more than it was three years ago.
It has been reported that only 30 to 50 of the 1,500 art works
from the Gurlitt collection were of exceptional quality and much of
the remaining art works include works on paper, drawings,
multiples, and prints, and are typically undocumented.
Germany's culture minister intends to exhibit the works from
the collection in Bonn sometime this year and later in Bern.
It should be noted that most museums have committed to the 1998 Washington conference principles on the
identification and return of Nazi looted art, but private owners
are not bound by the agreement. Although there is a 30-year statute
of limitations applied to stolen property in Germany, there is
nothing binding private owners to restitution of Nazi looted art.
While Germany does have a board referred to as the Limbach Commission that mediates in
controversial art restitution cases, the board can only issue
It will be interesting to learn about the progress of the
Center's provenance research and restitution efforts over the
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