In a story that never fails to provide new twists and turns, the Kunstmseum Bern, apparently with the collaboration of the German government, is now contesting the idea that the only thing holding up restitution of the works identified as Nazi-looted by the Gurlitt Task Force is the will contest by Cornelius Gurlitt’s cousin Uta Werner.  Instead, they are now blaming the claimants themselves for the delay in restituting Seated Woman by Henri Matisse, The Cardplayers, by Carl Spitzweg, and Two Riders on the Beach, by Max Liebermann, to the Rosenberg, Henrichnsen, and Friedmann/Toren families, respectively.

The Kunstmuseum Bern released a statement today jointly with the German government that reads:

By signing the agreement, the Kunstmuseum Bern relinquished any entitlement to pictures suspected of being looted art as early as November 24, 2014. This is also true for the picture Seated Woman by Henri Matisse. Since then, the BKM (the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media), in agreement with the KMB, is endeavoring to obtain the necessary evidence of the claimant’s entitlement to restitutions from the attorneys representing the Rosenberg family. What has been submitted to date falls short of the requirements—just as in the cases of the two other restitutions that have been assented to. The necessary documents for proving entitlement to inherit of individual members of the respective community of heirs have been requested several times, accompanied by necessary explanations both in writing and orally. Mr. Marinello, the legal representative of the Rosenberg heirs, sent documents proving entitlement to inherit to the BKM with a letter dated January 23, 2015, and on February 14, 2015, agreed to send the missing documents and evidence at a later date.

By all accounts the Rosenbergs had an agreement with Gurlitt himself before he died.  Further evidence of their relationship is essentially irrelevant (and insulting); that agreement to return the Matisse is almost certainly binding on Gurlitt’s heir, whether it is the museum or Werner (who in turn has disclaimed any right to it).  To suggest that the Rosenberg family’s lawyer, a prominent and respected advocate for the return of stolen art, is the cause of any of this is bold indeed, to put it politely.

Anyone wondering whether the Gurlitt affair had turned a corner for the better doesn’t really need to wonder any more.