Nazi-Art Hoarder Leaves $1.3B in Paintings to 'Sole Heir'

Cornelius Gurlitt wanted museum to sort out ownership

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted May 7, 2014 5:59 PM CDT

(Newser) – A Nazi-era art hoarder who died yesterday has left his entire $1.3 billion collection to the Bern Art Museum—which now has the unenviable task of deciding who owns which paintings, the BBC reports. Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of Adolf Hitler's art dealer, had no close relatives and named the museum his "unrestricted and unfettered sole heir." The museum said the news struck "like a bolt from the blue"—especially since it had no relationship with Gurlitt—but the "magnificent bequest" comes with "a considerable burden and a wealth of questions."

Gurlitt had already agreed that paintings known to be looted must go to the victims' present-day heirs; other works, acquired before the Nazis took power, can stay with the museum. "But in between the two categories are hundreds of paintings which may be disputed," writes Stephen Evans in a BBC analysis. A website has been created for claimants to see the art collection, NBC News reports, and an art recovery expert representing claimants in the case says he likes Gurlitt's will—because, he tells the Guardian, "the museum is bound by international codes of ethics regarding looted artworks as well as the Washington principles on Nazi-confiscated art."

In this Nov. 4, 2013 file photo cars are parked outside the apartment building in Munich, Germany, where more than 1,400 artworks were found in the apartment of collector Cornelius Gurlitt.   (AP Photo/dpa, Marc Mueller, File)
A painting of Marc Chagall is projected on a screen during a news conference in Augsburg, southern Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, on the art found in Munich.   (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)
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