‘Landscape with horses’ is a gouache by German painter Franz Marc, an important figure in the German Expressionist movement. Marc’s work was discovered in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt and was one of several pieces projected on the walls of the Germany authority’s press conference in Augsburg, Germany. Photo by Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images.
The report this weekend by German weekly Focus that some 1,400 works of art were recovered from a Munich apartment raised more questions than answers. The collection, including pieces unknown or presumed-lost by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, rattled the art world as the most significant discovery of art seized by the Nazi regime. While last year’s find wasn’t revealed until the story was leaked by Focus, German authorities Tuesday finally displayed a small glimmer of the artworks discovered.
The story goes that Hildebrand Gurlitt was hired by the Nazi regime as a war-time art dealer specifically for modern art, despite having a Jewish grandparent. The Nazi art collectors at the time were part of a program that collected what was deemed “degenerate art.” The works collected were removed from museums and or looted from the homes of Jewish art collectors and often sold abroad as income for the state. After World War II, Gurlitt claimed all of his art was lost in the bombing of Dresden, however, last year, German authorities found the collection in the Munich apartment of his son, Cornelius Gurlitt, who was being investigated for tax evasion. German authorities announced this morning that they stayed quiet about the findings because Gurlitt’s case remained open, but collectors and Jewish groups supporting Holocaust survivors are maddened by the wait.
Earlier today, prosecutors also confirmed the size and scope of the Nazi art trove, which experts consider to be of huge value. Some estimates say it could be worth more than $1.3 billion. No list will be published of the works found, but slides of a select few pieces of work were shown at the press conference in Augsburg, Germany.
Going forward, the German authorities are now faced with the task of figuring out what to do with the art work. The path looks messy and filled with huge legal and moral questions for everyone involved.
Investigators said that some of the works were clearly owned by the Nazi regime under their “degenerate art” collection. Many others pieces may have been extorted through Nazi persecution or had several owners. Returning these works to their rightful heirs will take many years and require extensive research.
“Holocaust claims are not going away. I think that a lot of dealers and auction houses and some recovery organizations would like to see the end of these Holocaust restitution claims,” director and founder of Art Recovery International — an organization specializing in recovering stolen and looted works — Christopher Marinello told the NewsHour. Already, he explained, a client is making a claim to one of the pieces revealed at today’s press conference. “There are so many more claimants out there searching for works of art that were looted from their families.”