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Art hoarder Gurlitt leaves trove to Swiss art museum

A Swiss museum claims to have inherited the collection owned by a German man whose hoard included work stolen by the Nazis. The Bern museum called the bequest a complete surprise that brought with it a burden.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Kunstmuseum Bern announced that it was "surprised and delighted" by the news.

The collection of works was left behind by Cornelius Gurlitt, who died on Tuesday at the age of 81 a week after undergoing heart surgery.

"Despite media speculation that the collection was going to be handed over to an art institution outside Germany, the news still struck us like a bolt out of the blue," the museum's statement read.

The museum also announced that the inheritance came with "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."

Stolen and extorted

The museum, which would take possession of Gurlitt's 1,400 modern art pieces, announced that it had been informed of the bequest by Gurlitt's lawyer.

Gurlitt's collection - which he had kept at a flat in Munich and in a house in the Austrian city of Salzburg - only came to light in 2013. Investigators raided Gurlitt's home in 2012 amid suspicions that he was evading taxes. Police are currently working under the assumption that 458 of the pieces were stolen or extorted.

The collector's father, Hildebrand, acquired most of the paintings in the 1930s and 1940s, when he worked on behalf of the Nazis as an art dealer. The Hitler regime was keen to sell art stolen from persecuted minorities as well as avant-garde works that were deemed to be degenerate.

Overall, the collection is worth an estimated 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) and includes works such as Claude Monet's "Waterloo" (pictured) and by artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Franz Marc, Paul Klee and Max Beckmann. Police returned many of the works to Gurlitt as part of a deal reached in April, agreeing that some of them did legally belong to him.

rc/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa)

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