The family heirs of Cornelius Gurlitt - the German recluse who was discovered to have a hoard of suspected Nazi-looted art in his Munich apartment - have said that if they inherit the collection they will immediately return it to the rightful owners.
Gurlitt, who died in May at the age of 81, left his entire art collection to a Swiss museum in what was widely seen at the time as a final act of revenge against the German authorities for trying to part him from his beloved paintings.
But the Kunstmuseum Bern is yet to decide whether to accept the bequest. If it declines, the art will revert to Gurlitt's family heirs. The collection of 1,600 artworks includes works by Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Otto Dix, among others, and its total value has been estimated to be as high as €1bn. Wolfgang Seybold, a lawyer, read out a statement yesterday committing the family to the "immediate and unconditional return of looted art from the Cornelius Gurlitt collection" in the event the museum turns down the bequest.
The undertaking is similar to commitments the Swiss museum has already made, but an additional motivation for the family is that some of Gurlitt's heirs are Jewish - the brother of Hildebrand Gurlitt, the Nazi art dealer who amassed the collection and the father of Cornelius, was married to a Jewish woman. The Gurlitt heirs promised further investigation of the artworks and said that the receipts and business documents of Hildebrand Gurlitt would be published on the internet.
The family further committed to mount a permanent exhibition of some 460 paintings that are not believed to have been looted.