German Lost Art Foundation Agency to Continue Research on True Owners of Gurlitt Art Collection

January 15, 2016

An art collection of more than 1200 pieces was found in 2012, in the cluttered apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt. As reported by the government-appointed panel, origins of around 500 pieces are suspicious. Although it is believed that they were stolen from Jewish families, the investigators are certain about only one percent of them, and since 2012 as few as two pieces were returned to their owners. As a reply to the impatient Jewish families who complain about the inefficiency of the authorities, task-force chairwoman Ingeborg Beggreen-Merkel said that a new team will continue the investigation in order to find the owners. German Lost Art Foundation undertook that assignment, aiming to speed up the process. In January 2016, the foundation will launch a new project titled “Gurlitt Provenance Research”.

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Henri de Tououse-Lautrec - Divan Japonais, 1892/1893 (detail)

Missing as a Result of Nazi Persecution

Cornelius Gurlitt was the son of a major German art dealer assigned to create the collection for Adolf Hitler himself during the Third Reich. Gurlitt’s father evidently kept the artworks by the avant-garde artists that the Nazis rejected as “degenerate”, some of which are now worth millions. These works fell into the hands of Cornelius, after the dealer’s sudden death. He managed to keep these works hidden without attracting attention until some point in 2010, when he became suspicious for possessing large amounts of money. In 2012, the authorities found this precious collection in the apartment Gurlitt used to live in in Munich, a place where he was reportedly hoarding more than just art.

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Left: Jukôdô Yoshikuni, called Ashimaro - The actor Nakamura Utaemon III as the ghost of the priest of Seigen, 1814 / Right: Eugene Delacroix - Torero (Banderillero)

Debate on Why the Process Is Slow

The fact that Gurlitt was a hoarder made the process more complicated, according to the German culture minister Monika Grütters. She defends thoroughness of the task force, explaining how the law regulations must be respected and how the chaotic circumstances under which the artworks were found make things harder. The head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, complained about the results of the investigation, calling them "meagre and not satisfactory". The most recent reports say that around 350 works have very little information of their provenance, whereas as only around 120 are suspected to be part of Nazi confiscated art based on at least some real evidence.

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Rainer Hoppe - Portrait (detail)

Information About the Artworks

The artworks in question include works by Matisse, Picasso, Munch, Toulouse Lautrec, Max Liebermann, Mark Chagall, Otto Dix, and many more avant-garde and impressionist artists. Out of five works proved to be looted by the Nazi’s so far, two were returned as mentioned before, and the remaining three are by German artists Adolph Menzel and Carl Spitzweg, and Impressionist master Camille Pissarro. As for the only two returned works, last year, “Seated Woman” by Matisse was given back to its rightful owner, and after that Lieberman’s "Two Riders on a Beach" was returned as well. The owners sold Lieberman’s painting at an auction, for 2.9 million dollars.

Featured image: Head of the Gurlitt task force Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, photo via Art Daily. Other images: Lost Art Internet Database.