The Gurlitt Task Force has issued its first public conclusion about the status of work amongst the collection found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment. Chair Ingebeborg Berggreen-Merkel issued a statement today that (my translation):
Even if it could not be documented with certainty under what circumstances Hildebrand Gurlitt came into the possession of the work, the task force comes to the conclusion that it is Nazi-looted art from the rightful property of the collection of Paul Rosenberg. This result also takes into account that after 70 years, not all questions can be answered definitively, but it is nonetheless the object of the Washington Principles that fair and just solutions should be found.
Our expert opinion will be made available to the probate court for use in determining if the work should be restituted to the heirs of Paul Rosenberg, as a result of the still-undecided legal issues. This ultimate decision rests in the hands of the heirs/legal successors of Cornelius Gurlitt, who declared himself ready shortly before his death to restitute according to the Washington Principles. This duty is binding on his heirs.
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While widely celebrated, this announcement also underscores the many concerns with the deal that Gurlitt struck in April, shortly before his death. In just over two months, the Task Force has now made one determination. There are still more than 900 works to review. Can this be completed in a year? That certainly seems unlikely.
It also solves only one of many questions with regard to the Matisse. A second claimant surfaced before Gurlitt’s death; Anne Sinclair’s representatives have dismissed the claim as unfounded, but the status of that disagreement is unclear. And, they were none too pleased about the announcement, stating “It is the height of insensitivity and continues the vein of disregard for due process and compassion that we have seen since the discovery of the Gurlitt hoard.”
Moreover, of course, the world still awaits the decision of the Kunstmuseum in Bern as to whether it will accept the status of Gurlitt’s heir, and if it does, what it will do with this and other paintings. The Task Force’s statement is clearly designed to force the museum’s and on this one by referencing the deal that Gurlitt made as binding on this heirs, and it is hard to imagine the museum fighting this even if it does accept the appointment. But with two of the twelve months for the Task Force review already gone, it does seem that there will be many unhappy observers when the year is up.