Swiss museum, Cézanne heirs reach deal over painting in Nazi-era trove

Paul Cézanne’s paintings are highly acclaimed. (Reuters pic)

ZÜRICH: A Swiss museum will retain ownership of a Paul Cézanne painting in a Nazi-era collection after agreeing to exhibit the work regularly at a museum in the French artist’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence, the artist’s heirs said on Tuesday.

La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, a landscape from 1897, is among works amassed by German art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt after he was enlisted by the Nazis to sell so-called “degenerate” modern art they had seized from German museums.

His son, Cornelius Gurlitt, kept the trove stored in his Munich apartment for decades, before leaving it to the Bern Museum of Fine Arts when he died at 81 in 2014.

In a statement, Cézanne’s heirs acknowledged the painting had not been stolen by the Nazis, at least according to available information, but said there was a gap in its provenance before it became part of the Gurlitt collection after 1940.

They held discussions with the museum in the Swiss capital that resulted in the agreement announced on Tuesday.

“This solution in the spirit of the Swiss-French friendship and partnership allows two great museums, Bern Museum of Fine Art and the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence, to show a masterpiece by our grandfather Paul Cézanne for the benefit and enjoyment of a great audience,” Philippe Cézanne said in the statement.

“It is a work that until 1940 was owned by the Cézanne family,” the Bern museum said. “When and under which circumstances Hildebrand Gurlitt acquired the work remains unclear.”

The painting is part of the museum’s exhibition “Gurlitt: Status Report; Part 2 Nazi Art Theft and Its Consequences”, which runs until July 15.

At an unspecified future date, it will be lent to the Musée Granet.

The Bern museum said the agreement had been reached without money changing hands.

“Instead, the agreement was carried by mutual trust and the spirit of partnership and cooperation,” it said.

The painting is among more than 80 works Cézanne painted of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire, a limestone ridge in southern France.