Cornelius Gurlitt, who hid artworks that may have been looted by the Nazis in his Munich apartment for more than 50 years, has made contact with Jewish families seeking restitution for property they say is theirs.
Gurlitt is negotiating the possible repatriation of exhibits, compensation or a share in proceeds from the sale of some of the pieces as ways to resolve claims, Hannes Hartung, a Munich lawyer who has represented the German art collector since December, said by telephone today.
The chance discovery, in a March 2012 tax raid, of 1,406 works by artists including Pablo Picasso, Max Beckmann, Oskar Kokoschka and Max Liebermann revealed modernist paintings, sketches and prints outlawed by the Nazi regime that were long given up as lost or destroyed. Gurlitt inherited the collection, which Focus magazine estimated to be valued at more than 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion), from his father Hildebrand, one of four art dealers tasked in the 1930s and 1940s with handling art the Nazis scorned as “degenerate.”
“We have an interest to solve this in a fair and orderly manner,” said Hartung. “If there were cases where a Jew was murdered and the paintings ended up with his father, he would of course return them. But to the best of our knowledge there is no such case as far as these paintings are concerned.”
The German government published several hundred pieces of the Gurlitt collection on the http://www.lostart.de website. Authorities have put a “handful” of people who claim the works originate from their families in contact with Hartung, he said. A few have contacted his law firm directly, he said.
As many as 590 works in Gurlitt’s cache may have stemmed from Jewish owners, while about 380 were identified as works seized by the Nazis, the government said on Nov. 11. The remaining works, “clearly have no connection with ‘degenerate art’ or Nazi loot,” it said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Hartung is representing Gurlitt in the restitution negotiations on Jan. 24.
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