Around 1,500 works of art worth an estimated billion euros ($1.35 billion) have been found sitting in homemade closets amid trash and piles of food in a Munich octogenarian’s apartment, according to a new report by German news magazine, Focus. Among them them are works by masters from the impressionist, classical modern, and pre-war periods, including Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Ernst Ludwig Kirschner, and Max Beckmann as well as Old Masters such as Albrecht Dürer.
The works — which were allegedly confiscated or looted from Jewish collections during the Nazi regime’s reign or sold under duress by their Jewish owners — were found in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, son of art dealer Hildebrandt Gurlitt, who is reported to have acquired them in the late 1930s and 1940s. At least 300 are said to have been officially condemned as “degenerate art” (a blanket term used by the Nazis for most modern and avant-garde art movements).
Two hundred of the works have outstanding requests for their return by families who claim to have had them in their possession before the rise of the Third Reich. Among the claimants is Anne Sinclair, granddaughter and principal heiress of the Jewish collector Paul Rosenberg, and ex-wife of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is said to have claim to a Matisse portrait of a woman among the discovered works.
Remarkably, the works were actually discovered in spring of 2011, but were kept secret from the public until now. The trove has been under the control of Bavarian customs officials, and Berlin-based art historian Meike Hoffmann has been attempting to identify and evaluate the hundreds of works. The officials performed a raid on Gurlitt's apartment based on suspicion that he was evading taxes, a prosecutor in Augsburg told Focus. E.U. customs officials had stopped Gurlitt during a random check of the amount of cash being carried by passengers on a train from Switzerland to Munich in September of 2010, and found him to be carrying an envelope with a suspiciously large amount of cash.
According to a second report published by Focus on Monday, Gurlitt had previously sold works from his collection to the Bern, Switzerland, based dealer Eberhard Kornfeld, though no definitive connection was made between the money Gurlitt was carrying on the train and works sold. Near certain, however, is the probability that more works from the collection are now in other collections, as Gurlitt is said to have sold various pieces throughout his life in order to support himself. These may weel have have been relatively minor works, since more prominent ones would have been likely to attract attention from agencies charged with the return of stolen artworks like the Art Loss Registry.
Focus claims that at least one painting from the collection, Max Beckmann’s “The Lion Tamer,” was sold by the Cologne-based auction house Lempertz after the raid occurred, for €864,000. The house did not immediately respond to BLOUIN ARTINFO’s request for comment, but noted in comments to other publications that the work was not listed on the registry for artworks stolen by the Nazis at the time of the sale.