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Freshfields lends support to provenance research into Emil Bührle Collection at Kunsthaus Zurich

Global law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has been lending its support to a research team led by Swiss historian and President of the German Historical Museum, Prof Dr Raphael Gross, in reviewing and verifying the previous provenance research conducted by the E.G. Bührle Collection Foundation.

Since October 2021, around 200 selected works from the private collection of Swiss industrialist Emil Georg Bührle have been on permanent loan to the Kunsthaus Zürich gallery, including paintings by Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir, Picasso, and van Gogh. The City and Canton of Zurich and Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft (Zurich Society of Fine Arts: the body that operates the Kunsthaus Zürich gallery and owns its works) commissioned Prof Dr Raphael Gross to further investigate the provenance of the works.

The final report presented by Raphael Gross on 28 June 2024 is available (in German with an executive summary in English) here. The report finds that a considerable number of the artworks in the Emil Bührle Collection originate from previous Jewish owners. In the course of prior research conducted by the E.G. Bührle Collection Foundation, the previous Jewish ownership either did not show up or did not feature in the published findings. As a result, the research team recommends in its report that further provenance research should be carried out that focuses on investigating the previous Jewish ownership. Prof Dr Raphael Gross summed up the findings as follows: "Without the Jewish collectors, the Bührle Collection would not be what it is. Or in other words: Without Antisemitic persecution, the Bührle Collection would never have been amassed.” The City and Canton of Zurich and the Zurich Society of Fine Arts expressed their sincere thanks to Prof Dr Raphael Gross and his team of experts for their “comprehensive and invaluable work”. They are expected to make a statement on the next steps in the research journey in mid-July 2024.

“I couldn't have done it without the legal support I received,” said Prof Dr Raphael Gross, thanking the lawyers involved for their ongoing support when presenting the report. Freshfields lawyers offered pro bono advice as a ‘Legal Sounding Board’ for the research. In this capacity, they provided Prof Dr Raphael Gross with independent assessments in response to specific questions of law and fact. They also lent support to the in-depth analysis of five specific works.

The Freshfields team comprised Frankfurt-based Dispute Resolution lawyers Dr Moritz Pellmann (Partner), Dr Bettina Schmaltz and Tobias André (both Counsel), Dr Katharina Niemz (Principal Associate), and Björn Weissenberger (Associate), along with Berlin-based Dispute Resolution lawyer Anna Köhler (Associate).