Art collection mostly kosher, spokesman claims

Only eight of Corneius Gurlitt’s 1,400 paintings are likely to have been stolen from Jews, a friend of the late collector said.

Christoph Edel made the claim in a eulogy for Gurlitt on May 19, the DPA news agency reported. A German court appointed Edel as guardian of Gurlitt’s possessions before his death earlier this month.

The eulogy was made public three days later by Gurlitt’s former spokesman, Stephan Holzinger.

But a spokesman for the government task force set up to research the provenance of all the works said 458 of them have been identified as having suspicious history; they could have been obtained through pressure on Jewish collectors.

Gurlitt, who died May 6 in Munich at 81, was under investigation for tax evasion when the collection was seized by customs officials more than two years ago. The vast collection, which includes works by such greats as Picasso, Durer, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Beckmann and Matisse, first came to light last fall, when a Munich magazine broke the story.

Cornelius’ father, Hildebrand, was an art dealer on assignment to the Nazis. When he died in 1956, his son inherited the collection.

Cornelius Gurlitt left his entire collection to the Kunst Museum in Bern, Switzerland.

Reportedly the museum has not yet decided if it will accept the gift, which comes with the responsibility to restore any works that were stolen or confiscated to their rightful heirs.

Meanwhile, a distant relative of Gurlitt announced plans to contest the will, ORF reported. — jta