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.

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  1. Hi Elizabeth,
    Hildebrand Gurlitt, villain or hero, savour or opportunist of stolen art? I can’t make up my mind. Where would they have ended up, if he had not acquire them during the war from the Nazis? Nonetheless, I hope they end up in art museums so they can be seen and enjoyed by all art lovers.

    Regards… George

    1. I TOTALLY disagree with you George, the artwork belongs with their owners, from whom they were stolen, it appears the museums want to steal them again

      1. Yes I agree with you that, if the original owners are still alive they should be returned to them. However, I can’t imagine they are. And how can anyone prove they are entitled to receive the paintings without positively proving ownership, other than their say so. If all the boxes are ticked and it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt they are the original owners, then so be it. But, I can’t see how that could be possible without holding some sort of certificate of purchase. That may be a hard call to make, but at least in an art museum they are safe and still on show for all to enjoy. It is sad that the Nazis stole the painting in the first place, and committed the most horrendous atrocities against the Jewish people ever witnessed by humanity; leaving the new Germany to sort out this mess in the most fairest way possible.

        1. As a matter of fact, George, Germany and Israel have recently and finally teamed up and ARE repatriating Nazi stolen loot, with Germany taking the lead in verifying provenances. Based upon public outcry and embarrassment there is a tremendous amount of repatriation occuring, legally and morally. Coming out of many museums in Europe who know they have Nazi loot. I have articles coming out soon with details. There is no doubt in these repatriations. What I find amazing is how fast they are going on the auction block but stolen private property legally does not belong in museums, they belong with the heirs.


          1. Well and good if that is the case Elizabeth, but morality and morals are not considered as permissible evidence in a court of law, as evidence. Law is judged on indisputable evidence of fact, by that, I mean official documentation presented to the courts that show clear ownership and if there is none, then even with the best intentions from the complainant it won’t happen. In saying that, for those who can prove ownership beyond any doubt, I wish them well.

            For example: Greece has been trying to retrieve the stolen Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, which the British museum hold in their keeping and till this day the stolen Parthenon marbles are yet to be returned to their rightful owners. Sad but true.

            My best wishes to the heirs, I do sympathise with them, but unless they can prove ownership beyond any doubt, for me they belong in the Art Museums.

          2. You’ll be happy to learn law and international law worked. The evidence was overwhelming, the art was returned to the heirs. As I said, articles about this will be shortly posted here explaining the details.

            Greece will never get back the Elgin Marbles, treaties have made sure of that. However, there will also be another article indicating how a British female lawyer successfully got stolen artifacts returned to Cambodia.

            In regards to Nazi looted art, the european museums are starting to dispose of objects with “taint” faster than was ever expected to the legal heirs. When it comes to nazi looted art, we all know that many records were destroyed but international consortiums are helping out with that. Last resort is always museums as protectors of “art” but in these cases, the museums have been proven to be perpetrators of coverups, they are part of the problem.

            Ownership was proved, stolen art returned, Simple as that.



          3. “Ownership was proved, stolen art returned, Simple as that.”

            In cases such as this, my best wishes to those true heirs who have succeeded.

            Regards… George

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