Whether Austrian Trove is Included So Far Unmentioned In Reports of Agreement
On the heels of last night’s “60 Minutes” treatment of the Gurlitt saga (which featured Willi Korte and Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, two participants at January’s Ersessene Kunst-Der Fall Gurlitt at which I also spoke), news has come today that Cornelius Gurlitt has signed an agreement with the German federal government and the Bavarian Ministry of Justice with respect to the artworks taken from his apartment in 2012. Where recent statements that he intended to return what had been stolen left that outcome entirely to his discretion, he now seems to have committed expressly to some sort of return protocol. The precise details are still unknown.
As best as can be determined from today’s reports (Gurlitt himself apparently signed the agreement at midday today), the Task Force will continue to research the provenance of the art taken from Gurlitt’s Munich apartment, and Gurlitt has pledged to return art determined to have been stolen. This is in exchange for a promise by the government that he will receive back any art cleared from suspicion by the Task Force or elsewhere. The further investigation into provenance and ownership will also be separated from the tax investigation that led to the seizure in the first instance. The Bavarian Justice Ministry, the German Ministry of Culture, and Gurlitt’s attorney Christoph Edel issued a combined press release today, that cites the Task Force’s hope to complete its duties within a year.
German Cultural Minister Monika Grütters gave a TV interview in which she summarized the agreement (interview in German). In the above press release, she was also quoted as follows (my translation):
I am thankful to everyone involved that we successfully allowed the work of the Task Force for the determination of the Gurlitt collection’s provenance to proceed independently from the tax criminal investigation. With this newly created contract we have achieved the important basis for fair and legal outcomes, in particular through restitution; Mr. Gurlitt has hereafter expressly acknowledged this purpose. In my view, the legally unassailable and extensive provenance research of the Gurlitt collection is important, not least because in doing so, we also send a clear signal to the outside world that we will not permit Nazi injustice to persist even 70 years after the war ended. The experiences collected from the Schwabing Art Find will be incorporated in my desired National Center of Cultural Property.
This could, of course, prove to be the decisive breakthrough, pairing the research of the Task Force with a commitment by the government and Gurlitt himself to proceed in accordance with the Task Force’s findings. The devil will be in the details of course, and just what Gurlitt has committed himself to is yet unclear. One certainly hopes that the exact terms of the agreement will be made public, and soon.
Unresolved in today’s news is the fate of the artwork that Gurlitt had in Austria, first in Salzburg (itself first underreported, but now at 238 works including a Claude Monet painting of London), then near Alt Aussee. The agreement today is between Bavaria, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Gurlitt, with respect to the German Task Force. Nothing reported today commits Gurlitt to the same scrutiny of the Austrian collection, nor to its return (nor, to be fair, is it expressly excluded, either).
As always, even what seems like a major development will prove tricky in the execution. In what might have been today’s biggest news until this, the one work so far that had been reported as the subject of a restitution agreement, a painting by Henri Matisse that once belonged to Paul Rosenberg, apparently now has a competing claim.