Art from Third Reich dealer’s trove on show for 1st time

The Bern Kunstmuseum exhibit features over 200 modern art pieces confiscated in a Nazi crackdown in the late 1930s against so-called "degenerate art" — deemed inferior because they were un-German, Jewish or Communist or, in the case of impressionist and other modernist works, didn't employ traditionally realistic forms.

GENEVA | A Swiss art museum on Wednesday showcased a new exhibit of artwork deemed “degenerate art” by the Nazis, drawn from a collection of some 1,500 works found hidden in the homes of German collector Cornelius Gurlitt five years ago.

The Bern Kunstmuseum exhibit features over 200 modern art pieces confiscated in a Nazi crackdown in the late 1930s against so-called “degenerate art” — deemed inferior because they were un-German, Jewish or Communist or, in the case of impressionist and other modernist works, didn’t employ traditionally realistic forms.

Switzerland Art Trove

Visitors watch the paintings in the exhibition "Bestandsaufnahme Gurlitt. Entartete Kunst - beschlagnahmt und verkauft", 'Inventory Gurlitt. degenerate art - confiscated and sold' in the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. The museum presents a new exhibit on Nazi-designated "degenerate art," the first public showing of items drawn from a collection of over 1,000 works found hidden in the apartment of German collector Cornelius Gurlitt. (Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP)

Switzerland Art Trove

Media attend a press conference in the exhibition "Bestandsaufnahme Gurlitt. Entartete Kunst - beschlagnahmt und verkauft", in the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. The museum presents a new exhibit on Nazi-designated "degenerate art," the first public showing of items drawn from a collection of over 1,000 works found hidden in the apartment of German collector Cornelius Gurlitt. (Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP)

Switzerland Art Trove

FILE In this Oct. 27, 2017 file photo banners advertise the upcoming exhibition of artworks from the Cornelius Gurlitt collection at the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland. The Swiss museum presents a new exhibit on Nazi-designated "degenerate art," the first public showing of items from a collection of over 1,000 works found hidden in the apartment of German collector Cornelius Gurlitt. (Alessandro della Valle/Keystone via AP,file)

Switzerland Art Trove

Two visitors discuss in front of the paintings "Junges Paar", left, and "Diskussion" of German painter Emil Nolde, in the exhibition "Bestandsaufnahme Gurlitt. Entartete Kunst - beschlagnahmt und verkauft", 'Inventory Gurlitt. degenerate art - confiscated and sold' in the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. The museum presents a new exhibit on Nazi-designated "degenerate art," the first public showing of items drawn from a collection of over 1,000 works found hidden in the apartment of German collector Cornelius Gurlitt. (Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP)

Switzerland Art Trove

A visitor watches the painting "Bildnis Maschka Mueller" of German painter Otto Mueller in the exhibition "Bestandsaufnahme Gurlitt. Entartete Kunst - beschlagnahmt und verkauft", 'Inventory Gurlitt. degenerate art - confiscated and sold' in the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. The museum presents a new exhibit on Nazi-designated "degenerate art," the first public showing of items drawn from a collection of over 1,000 works found hidden in the apartment of German collector Cornelius Gurlitt. (Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP)

Switzerland Art Trove

Nina Zimmer, director Kunstmuseum Bern, left, speaks next to Rein Wolfs, director Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, Germany during a press conference in the exhibition "Bestandsaufnahme Gurlitt. Entartete Kunst - beschlagnahmt und verkauft", in the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland, Wednesday, November 1, 2017. The museum presents a new exhibit on Nazi-designated "degenerate art," the first public showing of items drawn from a collection of over 1,000 works found hidden in the apartment of German collector Cornelius Gurlitt. (Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP)

But the Nazis were all too happy to sell such works to help fund their war machine.

The art on display in Bern, including Expressionist and Constructivist paintings by artists such as Otto Dix and Franz Marc, opens Thursday to the public.

It is part of parallel exhibits linked to the Gurlitt collection, which came to light in 2012. His father, Hildebrand, was a leading art dealer in the Third Reich.

The other exhibit opens on Friday in Bonn, Germany, with a focus on art looted and stolen by the Nazis — much from Jews. That show includes works from masters including Claude Monet and Albrecht Durer that were hidden from public view for decades.

Authorities stumbled onto Gurlitt’s collection five years ago while investigating a tax case. Cornelius Gurlitt, who died in 2014, had tucked away more than 1,200 works in his Munich apartment and another 250 or so in Salzburg, Austria.

A will bequeathed the works to the Bern fine arts museum, but a German government-backed foundation has worked with it to ensure that any pieces looted from Jewish owners were returned to their heirs.

Experts initially identified more than 90 works that were likely looted by the Nazis, including pictures by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch and Rembrandt. Only four works — including a painting by Camille Pisarro — have been returned to the rightful heirs.

The Bern exhibition runs until Mar. 4, 2018. The Bonn exhibition runs until Mar. 11.