81 years old and his heart faltering, in early January called a notary to his hospital bed in southern Germany, determined to write a last will and testament inspired by love and hate.
Mr. Gurlitt—stung by the local government’s seizure of the cache of priceless art that he called his life’s only love and by the world-wide furor over the fact that much of it was snatched from Jews by the Nazis—had two desires: to burnish his family name by giving the trove to a museum and to send it out of Germany. Only two months earlier, after a German magazine had exposed his secret collection, Mr. Gurlitt had vowed never to return any of the paintings.
But the secret will he signed in the Ludwigsburg, Germany, hospital was his first step toward an agreement with German officials ensuring the looted works could go back to their rightful owners. The agreement in which Mr. Gurlitt would pledge to was finalized between the lawyers and the government the first week of April. Mr. Gurlitt asked for the weekend of April 5 to read through the six-page contract. The government negotiators, aware of his declining health, had inserted a clause that would bind Mr. Gurlitt’s heirs. On April 7 at 1 p.m., in the presence of Mr. Edel, he signed the document, which gave the task force one year to research dubious paintings, with the German and Bavarian governments covering all costs. Mr. Edel called the Bavarian justice ministry shortly thereafter.
Two days later, the prosecutors’ office said it released the art for Mr. Gurlitt to retrieve, citing “fresh elements,” adding that its investigation was continuing. The art remains in a government-rented warehouse. Mr. Gurlitt remained mentally active throughout the negotiations. Mr. Edel visited him on May 5, telling colleagues he hadn’t appeared weaker than usual. H died the next day.