Bern Museum Sells $4 M. Manet Owned by Notorious Cornelius Gurlitt -ARTnews

Bern Museum of Fine Arts in Switzerland


Édouard Manet’s Ships at Sea in Stormy Weather (1873) will soon be crossing international waters. The Bern Museum of Fine Art in Switzerland has agreed to sell the painting to Tokyo’s National Museum of Western Art for $4 million, the Art Newspaper reports

Stormy Sea was among the 1,500 works bequeathed to the museum by the late German recluse Cornelius Gurlitt on his death in 2014; some are believe to come from the holdings of his father, Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt.

Nina Zimmer, the director of the Bern museum, cited the high costs of managing the massive Gurlitt collection as reasoning for the sale—a responsibility that far exceeds staging exhibitions.

The Gurlitt collection has been under intense scrutiny since it was seized in Cornelius Gurlitt’s Munich apartment in 2013. Many of the works in the collection, which includes pieces by Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, Otto Dix, and Paul Cézanne, are believed to be the spoils of Nazi looting in occupied Paris: Gurlitt’s father had been involved in obtained work for Adolf Hitler’s unrealized Führermuseum.

The Bern museum has since been absorbed with legal disputes, processing claims, and joint provenance research with the German government. So far, nine pieces have been declared as Nazi-looted and six have been restituted to the heirs of their original owners.

Stormy Sea was actually discovered in 2014, a year after the initial seizure, in Gurlitt’s Salzburg home, wrapped in newspaper and hidden behind a bookshelf. Researchers have since cleared the painting of any suspicion that it was looted. Its original owner was traced to the Japanese industrialist Kôjirô Matsukata, who had amassed a collection of art in the early 20th century with the foiled intention of establishing a museum in Japan. According to Zimmer, the Manet was considered “not critical for the collection,” given the significant number of Manet works already owned by Bern.

“We knew that the National Museum of Western Art has been trying to buy back the works from the Matsukata collection that were lost,” Zimmer said. “This seemed like the best solution for this difficult and sensitive task.”

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