Zurich looted ‘unfortunate’ art probe, says Swiss expert

Part of the Bührle collection was on public display at the Kunsthaus in Zurich last year. © Keystone / Walter Bieri

A Swiss art expert has called the investigation of works of art looted by suspected Nazis from a collection in Zurich “unprofessional” and “unfortunate”.

This content was published on September 14, 2022 – 15:06


Lawyer Marcel Brülhart, who sits on the board of the Bern Art Museum Foundation, made the comments in reference to a controversial collection of the late Swiss industrialist Emil Bührle, which is on display at the Kunsthaus museum. from Zürich.

The Bührle collection remains at the center of controversy after years of debate. A renowned constitutional lawyer was recently appointed to chair a new committee to examine the issue.

Speaking to media group Tamedia on Wednesday, Brülhart said the ongoing saga of looted art was “becoming a burden for Switzerland”. He reserved his strongest criticism for the treatment of the Bührle affair.

“What is happening in Zurich is unprofessional. No one has the courage to take a decision in the Bührle affair, neither the Kunsthaus, nor the municipal and cantonal authorities,” he saidExternal link. “I was asked abroad if the Kunsthaus Zurich was an anti-Semitic museum.”

He called the creation of a new committee to look into the Bührle issue “unfortunate” and a “waste of time”.

The Kunsthaus Zurich has been condemned for its decision last year to expose the Bührle collection to the public.

Emil Georg Bührle, who died in 1956, made his fortune selling weapons to Germany during World War II, bought Nazi-looted art, and profited from slave labor. Most of his collection is now held by the Bührle Foundation.

Neither the Kunsthaus Zurich nor Zurich City Hall responded directly to Brülhart’s comments. A spokesperson for the Kunsthaus said his exhibition contributes to public debate and that the museum has taken responsibility for researching provenance.External link controversial works of art.

The Museum of Fine Arts Bern is also grappling with the issue of looted art, particularly a collection inherited from Cornelius Gurlitt, son of one of Hitler’s dealers.

Brülhart said the Bern museum had made much more progress in researching the provenance of artworks. Last year, two paintings were returned to the heirs of their former ownersExternal link.

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Christopher S. Washington