As the world adjusts to the announcement last week that the Kunstmuseum Bern has decided to accept Cornelius Gurlitt’s bequest (amid the continuing uncertainty about the validity of the will itself), the most significant development has been the museum’s posting of an inventory of the objects themselves. The museum issued a press release that states:
‘We have promised transparency and are now acting accordingly. We are therefore happy to be able to release, only three days after deciding to sign the agreement, the information we currently have at our disposal,’ stated Matthias Frehner, Director of the Kunstmuseum Bern. ‘The ongoing categorization has not been completed in full yet. Additionally, we will further endeavor to emend the lists, step by step, for example, in regard to attributing the works to artists or improving the quality of the photos of the pictures and ensuring that all of them are photographed. Any new, validated information will be made known the public immediately.’
The collection is divided between those found in Munich and those found in Salzburg. Each item lists the medium, artist, title and dimensions (in German). It’s also a PDF, so harder to search, let alone sort.
Overall, it seems safe to say the collection has significant works, but the initial reports of its overall value were overstated. Most of the objects are works on paper, and many appear unlikely to have been seized as “degenerate art.” One can reasonably assume that the compilation is mostly the work of the Gurlitt Task Force, since presumably the Swiss museum did not have access enough to make such an inventory before accepting the inheritance but the Task Force has since last year’s agreement with Gurlitt. It was revealed last week, however, that a private Swiss donor has stepped in to subsidize further research.
Unmentioned, however, are provenance details. Particulary for the works on paper, as many commentators have noted, some provenance will be essential for heirs even to identify themselves; famous paintings that heirs recognize are almost certain to be the exception. While an heir migh have some sense of a past collection, the presence in the Gurlitt collection of works that once belonged to Jewish families would almost speak for itself.
Still, this release is as much concrete information as has been released in a long time, and good news overall.