BERLIN — A museum in Switzerland said today that it has been named the “unrestricted and unfettered sole heir” of a German art collector whose hoard of 1,280 major artworks set off an uproar last year over the fate of art looted by the Nazis.
The Kunstmuseum Bern, in the Swiss capital, said it was “surprised and delighted” at the appointment, of which it was informed by Cornelius Gurlitt’s lawyer, Christoph Edel.
“At the same time, we do not wish to conceal the fact that this magnificent bequest brings with it a considerable burden of responsibility and a wealth of questions of the most difficult and sensitive kind, and questions in particular of a legal and ethical nature,” it said in a statement.
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The museum said that the news “came like a bolt from the blue” as it had never previously had any dealings with Gurlitt, who died age 81 on Tuesday.
Gurlitt’s spokesman, Stephan Holzinger, said his client summoned a notary early this year before he underwent heart surgery, with his court-appointed guardian also present, but that it was up to the Munich court to determine whether there is a valid will.
The return of the released pictures to Gurlitt hadn’t started at the time of his death, Holzinger said.
German investigators seized more than 1,000 artworks from Gurlitt’s apartment two years ago after chancing upon the trove of paintings, print and drawings by masters such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.
Authorities are in the process of checking whether any of the paintings were looted by the Nazis, for whom Gurlitt’s father worked as an art dealer. The Bavarian Justice Ministry said Tuesday that a deal struck with Gurlitt before his death would be binding on all possible heirs.