Discovery of Nazi-plundered art offers glimpse 'into a dark story'

MUNICH — Hundreds of works of art
by Picasso, Matisse and other masters
of the 20th century — seized by the
Nazis, lost for decades and now worth
more than $1 billion — were
reportedly found among piles of
rotting groceries in a German
The find would be among the largest in
the worldwide effort, underway since
the end of World War II, to recover
masterpieces plundered by the Nazis
from Jews inside Germany and from
elsewhere in Europe, considered the
largest art heist in history.
Experts will appraise the works —
paintings, drawings and prints — but
the German news magazine Focus,
which broke the story, put the value at
more than 1 billion euros, or $1.3
German artist Max Beckman's "Lion
Tamer", a 1930 gouache and pastel
on paper was recently sold by Corn
Gurlitt – the reclusive son of Hildeb
Gurlitt, the art dealer who in the r
to the Second World War had been i
charge of gathering up the so-called
"degenerate art" for the Nazis.
German authorities have not released
photos of the cache, which also
includes works by Marc Chagall and
Paul Klee. Investigators found it two
years ago, after a man taking the train
from Zurich to Munich was found
carrying a large but legal amount of
The man was the son of Hildebrand
Gurlitt, who was a modern art
specialist in the early 20th century.
Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda
minister, recruited Gurlitt to raise cash
for the Third Reich by selling art that
had been deemed degenerate by Adolf
When Hildebrand Gurlitt died, in a
traffic accident in 1956, his son
inherited the art, apparently unaware
of its origin.
Focus reported that the son, Cornelius
Gurlitt, 80, kept the works hidden in
darkened rooms in his disheveled,
food-littered apartment in Munich. He
sold a painting now and then when he
needed cash, the magazine said.
Much of the work was already known
from reproductions, said Walter
Grasskamp, a professor at the
Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.
“I think the surprise will be bigger in
terms of politics: Who owned it, how
was it taken away, was it legal —
obviously not,” Grasskamp said. “What
about the original owners, where did
they end? I think this is a question as
interesting as the value for the art
It was not clear why German
authorities kept the find secret for two
years. The British newspaper The
Guardian reported that it may be
because of diplomatic and legal
complications, particularly claims for
restitution from around the world.
AP / Police Rotterdam
The 1919 painting "'Reading Girl in
and Yellow" by Henri Matisse. Othe
works by Matisse and other artists
among almost 1,500 discovered in a
German apartment.
International warrants were out for at
least 200 of the prized works,
according to Focus. The magazine
reported that the recovered collection
is being stored in a secure warehouse
in Munich for now.
Asked about the Focus report, a
spokesman for the German
government, Steffen Seibert, said that
authorities were aware of the case and
supplying “advice from experts in the
field of so-called degenerate art.”
More than 20 percent of the art of
Europe was looted by the Nazis under
Hitler, and as many as 100,000 works
are still thought to be missing,
according to the U.S. National
The allies recovered and cataloged
much of the art, which had been
stashed by the Germans in churches
and other buildings. Gen. Dwight
Eisenhower personally inspected some
of the stolen treasures after the allied
Grasskamp, the professor, said that the
discovery should be deemed not a
great find for Germany but a reminder
of its dark past.
“It is connected with the worst chapter
of German history, so it’s not a
triumph, it’s not the ‘Nazi treasure,’
which is rubbish,” he said. “I think this
is an interesting peeping hole into a
dark story.”