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Bern Museum of Fine Arts to inspect inherited Nazi-era art hoard owned by Cornelius Gurlitt
A student works next to paintings by Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler in the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Fine Arts (Kunstmuseum) of Bern on May 8, 2014. The museum said it was shocked to learn that Cornelius Gurlitt the son of a Nazi-era art dealer had left it a disputed hoard of priceless paintings -- some thought to have been plundered from Jews. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI.
GENEVA (AFP).- A Swiss museum that unexpectedly inherited a disputed hoard of priceless paintings, some likely plundered from Jews during World War II, plans to send a team to Germany to inspect the treasure.

Matthias Frehner, head of the Bern Museum of Fine Arts, told the Berner Zeitung daily Thursday that the museum "first and foremost needs to go to Germany to get an impression of what the inheritance represents."

His comment was published a day after the museum learned that it was the sole heir of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi-era art dealer, who died on Tuesday at the age of 81, following heart surgery.

With the grant, the museum would become the owner of a spectacular trove of 1,280 artworks, including long-lost masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse and Chagall, that Gurlitt had hidden in his flat in the southern German city of Munich for decades.

More than 200 other paintings, sketches and sculptures were discovered in February in a separate home of Gurlitt's in Salzburg, Austria including works by Monet, Manet, Cezanne and Gauguin.

The Bern museum, which said it had no relationship with the deceased, has expressed "happy surprise" and "gratitude" at the inheritance.

But it has also said it is bracing for the huge legal and historical burden accompanying the artworks, some 450 of which experts estimate are Nazi-looted art.

In a statement Wednesday, the museum said the inheritance handed it "a considerable responsibility", and raised "sensitive questions, especially of a legal and ethical nature."

Frehner stressed in Thursday's interview that the museum was also inheriting other assets, "like real estate, for instance."

He said it was unclear how much the total inheritance was worth but that he expected the value to be "very high".

"So far, no one knows exactly what is included in this 'treasure'," he said, pointing out that the quality of the artworks was likely uneven, but that the collection certainly included "important modern classics, which for the most part have never been put on show."

"It is extraordinary to come face-to-face with such a collection," he said, stressing that as soon as the origin of the works had been determined and the museum received the green light to exhibit them, "they will certainly heighten the value of our collection."

© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

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