Germany Will Continue to Research Gurlitt’s Collection

Monika Grutters.

Monika Grütters, the German culture minister, gave a progress report in Berlin on Thursday. Credit Markus Schreiber/Associated Press | The New York Times

Germany has announced that it will fund another year of research and hire additional employees to continue establishing the provenance of art collected by Cornelius Gurlitt, who had an enormous group of artworks that were collected by his father, an art dealer for the Nazi regime.

Monika Grütters, Germany’s culture minister, said that she believes further investigation into the pieces is necessary because it is “what we owe the victims.” The collection in question has been a costly one: Grütters has received criticism for pursuing a project which appears to have no end. A two-year, $2 million exploration, the study found the rightful owners of only 5 of the paintings in the collection.

“We all had higher expectations than we could meet, and that is because this is a singular case,” Grütters explained of the disappointment. “It is so extraordinary that there is no path to follow.”

The Gurlitt collection has been surrounded by controversy since it first came to light. The German government has received harsh criticism for keeping its discovery secret for over a year until a news publication wrote about it in 2013, forcing the government’s hand. Art expert and Jewish groups alike were outraged by the silence.

Cornelius Gurlitt’s May 2014 death has also complicated things because he is no longer around to sign off on the items. If there is a claimant and a museum, things are easy—not so with this collection. His death has also contributed to the slow pace of Grütters’ investigation: if not done correctly, pieces could be awarded to the wrong people, and due to the sensitive nature of the collection’s origin, it’s crucial that it not be mishandled.

“I am an impatient person and would rather give it all back today, not tomorrow,” Grütters said, addressing criticism and offering assurance that the government is not deliberately dragging their feet.

Gurlitt’s collection contains over 1,200 pieces of art, 276 of which were either created by members of the Gurlitt family or were made after 1945. 231 works were found to have once belonged to German museums when they were taken by the Nazis as part of a “Degenerate Art” mission. Most of the pieces require further examination.

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