Germany Says 590 Artworks in Munich Haul May Be Nazi Loot

Photographer: Christof Stache/Max Liebermann/AFP/Getty Images

A reproduction of a painting that is being attributed to German Max Liebermann, seen during a press conference in Augsburg on November 5 upon the discovery of more than 1,400 paintings including works by Picasso and Matisse looted by the Nazis. The prosecutors spoke to the press a day after German weekly Focus revealed police came upon the paintings during a February 2012 search in an apartment belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt, the octogenarian son of art collector Hildebrand Gurlitt. Close

A reproduction of a painting that is being attributed to German Max Liebermann, seen... Read More

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Photographer: Christof Stache/Max Liebermann/AFP/Getty Images

A reproduction of a painting that is being attributed to German Max Liebermann, seen during a press conference in Augsburg on November 5 upon the discovery of more than 1,400 paintings including works by Picasso and Matisse looted by the Nazis. The prosecutors spoke to the press a day after German weekly Focus revealed police came upon the paintings during a February 2012 search in an apartment belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt, the octogenarian son of art collector Hildebrand Gurlitt.

The German government said some 590 artworks discovered in a Munich apartment may have been looted by the Nazis from Jewish collections and pledged to research and publish their ownership history.

Authorities seized Cornelius Gurlitt’s cache of 1,406 artworks, including pieces by Max Beckmann, Pablo Picasso, Oskar Kokoschka and Max Liebermann as evidence in an investigation on suspicion of tax evasion and embezzlement in March 2012.

The government said late yesterday it would put the artworks it suspects were plundered on the website lostart.de, and began by posting 25, including works by Otto Dix and Eugene Delacroix. The website was inaccessible today because of heavy traffic -- a sign of the interest in Gurlitt’s hoard.

“It’s great news,” Chris Marinello, the director of Art Recovery International, said by telephone from London. “Obviously the pressure had been mounting. This all should have been done at the beginning.”

Related: Nazi Trove Reveals Holocaust Survivor’s Lost Art

The Nazis seized hundreds of thousands of artworks from Jewish collectors as part of their policy of racial persecution. Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was appointed to buy and sell art on behalf of Adolf Hitler’s regime and his son probably inherited the collection.

Photographer: Lennart Preiss/Getty Images

A newspaper billboard announcing "Billion Euro Art Treasure Discovered In Schwabing (a section of Munich)" in front of the apartment building that is residence of Cornelius Gurlitt, where according to media reports customs agents seized more than 1,400 paintings that had been confiscated by the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s, on November 4, 2013 in Munich, Germany. Gurlitt's father Hildebrand Gurlitt was an art dealer who oversaw the confiscations of what the Nazis termed "degenerate art", and the son, now in his 80s, reportedly hoarded the works, which include paintings by Henri Matisse, Emil Nolde and Max Liebermann. The works are now at a customs warehouse outside Munich and have an estimated value of EUR one billion. Close

A newspaper billboard announcing "Billion Euro Art Treasure Discovered In Schwabing (a... Read More

Close
Open
Photographer: Lennart Preiss/Getty Images

A newspaper billboard announcing "Billion Euro Art Treasure Discovered In Schwabing (a section of Munich)" in front of the apartment building that is residence of Cornelius Gurlitt, where according to media reports customs agents seized more than 1,400 paintings that had been confiscated by the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s, on November 4, 2013 in Munich, Germany. Gurlitt's father Hildebrand Gurlitt was an art dealer who oversaw the confiscations of what the Nazis termed "degenerate art", and the son, now in his 80s, reportedly hoarded the works, which include paintings by Henri Matisse, Emil Nolde and Max Liebermann. The works are now at a customs warehouse outside Munich and have an estimated value of EUR one billion.

Haste, Transparency

The government will set up a task force of at least six provenance researchers led by Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, according to the joint statement from the Culture Ministry, Finance Ministry and the Bavarian government.

Jewish groups and heirs’ representatives had demanded a list and voiced outrage when the Augsburg prosecutor said publishing one would be counterproductive. They also expressed frustration that provenance researcher Meike Hoffmann of Berlin’s Free University was the only art historian investigating the haul since it was seized 18 months ago.

“The origin of the artworks found in Munich will be clarified with as much haste and transparency as possible,” the authorities said.

Among the first artworks posted on lostart.de are a Delacroix drawing, “Moorish Conversation on a Terrace;” an 1840 drawing of musicians by Carl Spitzweg with the previous owner listed as Henri Hinrichsen, a Leipzig music publisher; a Dix portrait of a woman that once belonged to the Littmann family, and a drawing by Otto Griebel previously owned by a Dresden lawyer, Fritz Salo Glaser.

Terrible Injustices

“We have a great deal of understanding for the fact that representatives of Jewish organizations are asking lots of questions,” Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, said earlier at a government news conference. “They represent some very elderly people, who experienced, or whose forefathers experienced, terrible injustices.”

About 970 works altogether may have been seized by the Nazis, the ministries said. The researchers will also examine the provenance of about 380 artworks possibly seized from German museums as “degenerate art,” they said.

Prosecutors projected a handful of the works in Gurlitt’s collection onto a screen at a press conference last week. The heirs of David Friedmann, a Jewish businessman who died in 1943, recognized “Riders on the Beach” by Max Liebermann as an artwork they have been seeking for years, and registered their claim with the prosecutor.

The heirs of Paul Rosenberg identified a Matisse painting they say belonged to the family and have requested its return.

“We are ready to talk about restitution,” said Marinello, who is representing Rosenberg’s heirs. “I am waiting to be invited to a meeting to discuss what to do next.”

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To contact the reporter on this story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chickley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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