Wednesday 26 November 2014

Swiss museum decides to accept Gurlitt's collection

The trustees of the Kunstmuseum Bern announced yesterday that the museum has decided to accept the bequest of Cornelius Gurlitt's art collection.

We have already spoken herehere and here about Gurlitt's art collection, which was discovered in a Munich apartment in 2012 during a routine tax investigation. The majority of the collection is believed to have been amassed by Gurlitt's father, the Nazi-era art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who told US authorities after World War II that his collection had been destroyed by Allied bombing.  

After Gurlitt's death last May, the Swiss museum took the full six months allowed by German probate law to decide whether to accept or reject the gift.  At a joint press conference, the chairman of the museum's board of trustees announced that works that are believed to have been looted will stay in Germany, while a team of researchers investigate their provenance. In this regard, the Kunstmuseum announced today that it has set up a provenance department.

The decision to accept Gurlitt's bequest is likely to open the Kunstmuseum up to years of litigation, as the President of the Jewish World Congress, Ronald Lauder, has already warned.

In addition, the Kunstmuseum's decision to accept the bequest comes just a few days after Gurlitt's cousin, Uta Werner, announced that she has submitted a certificate of inheritance to the Munich probate court, challenging the testamentary capacity of Cornelius Gurlitt to bequeath his collection to the Kunstmuseum. If this were the case, Gurlitt's cousin and other heirs would inherit the whole art collection. Gurlitt's heirs have already said that – unlike the Kunstmuseum – they will return each artwork to their rightful owner.

We shall have to wait and see who will eventually manage Gurlitt's collection.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Orphaned and abducted cultural fragments: a forthcoming seminar

Here's some information concerning a fascinating event which is coming up early next month, and which Art & Artifice blogger Liz Emerson will be attending. If you are going to be there too, do make a point of saying "hello" to her!  If you want to get in touch with her or have any questions to ask her, just email her at

Monday 17 November 2014

New Bill Proposed to Amend U.S. Copyright Act to Protect Inheritance Rights of Same-Sex Spouses

On November 12, 2014 Senator Patrick Leahy proposed Bill 2919 which would amend the Copyright Act to insure that all married couples are treated equally under the Act.

As many of our readers know, generally the term of a copyright lasts decades beyond the death of the author, and that copyrights may pass to an author's heirs upon death. Section 203 of the Copyright Act also endows an author's heirs with the right to terminate transfers and licenses made by the author during his or her life under certain conditions. Importantly, the acquisition of these rights by an author's heirs may rely upon the Copyright Act's definition of "widow" and "widower" contained in 17 U.S.C. § 101. Under this definition an author's "widow" or "widower" is the author's surviving spouse under the law of the author's domicile at the time of death. Essentially, this means that a same-sex couple legally married in Vermont would not have the same rights under the Copyright Act if, at the time of the author's death, they live in a state that does not recognize gay marriage, such as Georgia. Senate Bill 2919 would cure this inequity by amending the definition of "widow" and "widower" to hinge upon whether the author's marriage would be recognized by the courts of the state where the author was married at the time of the author's death. As Senator Leahy stated when introducing Senate Bill 2919, the bill "amends the Copyright Act to look simply at whether a couple is lawfully married--not where a married couple happens to live when the copyright owner dies. It will ensure that the rights attached to the works of our Nation's gay and lesbian authors, musicians, painters, photographers, and other creators pass to their widows and widowers. Artists are the creative lifeblood of our Nation, and our laws should protect their families equally."

The full text of the proposed bill is available here, and the transcript of the entirety of Senator Leahy's introduction here. The bill is presently in committee and has not yet been signed into law.