Cornelius Gurlitt, the art collector who for decades hoarded hundreds of works in his Munich apartment and in a house in Salzburg, has instructed his court-appointed adviser to hand back items looted from Jewish owners.
“If there are works under justified suspicion of being stolen art, then please give them back to their Jewish owners,” Gurlitt instructed lawyer Christoph Edel, according to a statement released yesterday by Stephan Holzinger, Gurlitt’s spokesman,
A catalog of suspected looted art from the collection kept by Gurlitt at his Munich apartment will be published shortly and a restitution program is being prepared in accordance with the Washington Principles that called for a just solution for victims of Nazi art plunder and their heirs, Edel said in the statement. Only a small percentage of the collection owned by Gurlitt is suspected of having been stolen, he added.
“Sitzende Frau” (“Sitting Woman”) by Henri Matisse, will be the first work to be handed over to the heirs of Paris-based art collector Paul Rosenberg, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported yesterday, citing Edel. Gurlitt will return more paintings in the next weeks, the newspaper said.
The chance discovery of more than 1,400 modernist artworks in a March 2012 raid by Bavarian tax authorities at Gurlitt’s Munich apartment unearthed paintings, sketches and prints long given up as lost or destroyed under Adolf Hitler’s regime. Gurlitt inherited the collection, which Focus magazine estimated to be valued at more than 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion), from his father Hildebrand.
In February, another 60 works of art were found in a house in Salzburg, Austria. A preliminary assessment has found no evidence that the pieces in Austria were stolen or looted by the Nazis, Holzinger said at the time.
The Salzburg portion of Gurlitt’s collection is bigger than was initially apparent and contains 238 art objects, including 39 oil paintings, according to the statement released by Holzinger yesterday.
Of the 39 paintings, seven are attributed landscape painter Louis Gurlitt, who died in 1897 and was the grandfather of Cornelius Gurlitt. Among the other paintings and watercolors are works by Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Eduard Manet, Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissaro, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Max Liebermann, Paul Cezanne and Emile Nolde, according to the statement.
The largest portion of the Salzburg collection is drawings, including by Pablo Picasso, silver vessels, woodcuts, ceramic bowls and bronze, marble and iron art works including by Rodin. All are being kept in a safe location and are being documented and handled by professional restorers. International experts will research and clarify the origin of the objects beyond any doubt, according to the statement.
Research and findings conducted possibly in collaboration with German or foreign institutions will be published within a reasonable time so that claimants can be verified, Edel said in the statement.
While an initial inspection of the house in Salzburg found only 60 items, further searches on February 24 and February 28 disclosed additional art objects in previously inaccessible parts of the house after bulky and useless objects were removed from both floors and are now in a secure warehouse.
Hannes Hartung, an art law expert until now in charge of negotiations with claimants, has been released from his mandate and claimants should directly contact Edel’s law firm, according to the statement.
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