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.”
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.
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.
“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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