Just a month after reaching an agreement with the German government, Cornelius Gurlitt, the octogenarian who was hoarding one of the biggest caches of Nazi-era art discovered since World War II, has died. A statement posted on Gurlitt’s website states:
Cornelius Gurlitt died this morning in his apartment in Schwabing, in the presence of a doctor.
After a serious heart surgery and a week-long stay in a hospital, it was the request of the deceased to return to his apartment in Schwabing. There he was in nursing care and taken care off [sic] in recent weeks around the clock.
He was 81.
Cornelius’s father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was one of a handful of art dealers authorized by the Nazis to buy and sell modernist — aka “degenerate” — art during the 1930s and ’40s. In a raid in 2012, German authorities discovered nearly over 1,000 artworks by the likes of Otto Dix and Marc Chagall stored away in Cornelius’s apartment in Munich, although the news only came to public light last fall (another raid earlier this year turned up dozens more works in a house he owned in Salzburg, Vienna). Gurlitt, who was reclusive but gave a lengthy interview to Der Spiegel in November 2013, claimed that he had acquired all of the works legally, but restitution claims have been brought for some, and the German government has been conducting an ongoing investigation into the provenance of nearly 600 of them.
Gurlitt’s website says that “With the death of Cornelius Gurlitt end [sic] both the court-ordered care, as well as the investigation.” According to the New York Times, the collection is still in the hands of the German government research task force. Neither that obituary nor one in Bloomberg lists any surviving family members, although the online announcement of his passing sends sympathy “to the family of the deceased.”
Update, 5/7, 11:40am: Gurlitt bequeathed his entire collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland, The Art Newspaper has reported. In a statement posted on the museum’s website, Director Matthias Frehner says:
[T]he news came like a bolt from the blue, since at no time has Mr Gurlitt had any connection with Kunstmuseum Bern. The Board of Trustees and Directors of Kunstmuseum Bern are surprised and delighted, but at the same time 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.