Nazi-Looted Art Trove Worth Billions
NOVEMBER 11, 2013
|Art Trove May be Worth $1.35B
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Nazi-Looted Art Trove May Be Worth $1.35B
November 4, 2013 * Bloomberg News
A Berlin art historian is helping prosecutors investigate a trove of 1,500 artworks found in a Munich apartment and that may have been seized by the Nazis.
Berlin Free University said in an e-mailed statement today that Meike Hoffmann of its degenerate art research unit is helping identify the works. The German government said in a statement today that it was aware of the case.
The haul — which would be worth an estimated 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) if found to be by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Max Beckmann and Marc Chagall — was discovered in a squalid apartment, according to the German magazine Focus.
“The number of works is overwhelming,” Monika Tatzkow, a provenance researcher and author of several books on Nazi-looted art, said in an interview from Berlin today. If they are genuine, “it shows that a lot of time has to pass for some of this art to emerge from shady sources.”
The artworks, long thought to have been lost or destroyed, were uncovered by authorities probing money laundering after a random check on an elderly man traveling from Switzerland to Munich. The secret raid took place two years ago, according to Focus, which didn’t say how it obtained the information.
“The federal government is supporting the Augsburg prosecutors with experts in the field of so-called degenerate art,” German chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a Berlin news conference today. “Of course we can’t comment on the investigation. The government has been kept informed of this case for several months now.”
The investigators unearthed the paintings, sketches and prints — which were buried among outdated food packets and garbage — two years ago in the apartment of a man reported to be the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a prominent art dealer in the 1930s and 1940s with ties to the Nazis, according to the Focus report.
Customs authorities in Munich and prosecutors in the city of Augsburg declined to comment on the report, citing confidentiality rules. Augsburg prosecutors will release more details on the case tomorrow, their spokesman Matthias Nicola said.
“As important a story as this is, why have the Bavarian authorities been sitting on them for two years?” said Anne Webber, co-Chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, a London-based organization which helps families recover art seized by the Nazis. “Bavaria needs to publish a list of these works as soon as possible.”
The works include a painting entitled “Portrait of a Lady” by Henri Matisse that once belonged to Jewish art collector Paul Rosenberg, Focus said.
Rosenberg — whose granddaughter is Anne Sinclair, the journalist and estranged wife of former International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn — was forced to leave his collection behind when he fled the Nazis, Focus said. Gurlitt kept the artworks and sold some as a source of income over the years, the magazine reported.
Works by Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Liebermann and Albrecht Duerer were also discovered in the raid, it said.
The apartment building is a drab beige block constructed after World War II. It lies some 250 meters from the English Garden, in the affluent northern Munich neighborhood of Schwabing favored by rich intellectuals, a legacy of its heritage as a hub for artisans and bohemians.
“If only we’d known sooner,” said Asma Omar, a 23-year- old student at the school of dietetics opposite Gurlitt’s apartment block. “It’s crazy that all this art was right there and we’re here every day. I mean, a billion euros of art with all the history that goes with it? Astonishing.”