Paintings by Chagall, Rodin, Matisse and others were among 1,400 artworks found at Munich home.
Paintings by Chagall, Rodin, Matisse and others were among 1,400 artworks found at Cornelius Gurlitt's Munich home. Photo by AFP
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Reuters
The name plate on the house of art collector Cornelius Gurlitt is pictured in Salzburg, November 6, 2013. Photo by Reuters

The story of Cornelius Gurlitt, a reclusive art collector who was recently discovered to have $1 billion worth of artwork stashed in his Munich apartment sounds more like a movie than reality.

In Gurlitt’s first interview, published on Sunday in German newspaper Der Spiegel, he compared the confiscation of his artwork as a more devastating blow than the death of his sister.

“Saying goodbye to my pictures was the most painful of all,” he said, according to an article in the New York Times.

For nearly half a century, Gurlitt interacted with virtually no one — except his paintings. His apartment was devoid of basic technology like a television or computer. Gurlitt chose rather to entertain himself with his paintings.

“He kept his favorites, a collection of works on paper, in a small suitcase that he would unpack each evening to admire,” the New York Times reported.

In his interview, Gurlitt spoke of his art like a lover and a family member. When asked if he had ever been in love with another person he laughed and said “Oh, no.”

Gurlitt inherited the art collection — which includes pieces by Picasso, Chagall and Gauguin — from his father Hildebrand Gurlitt, a partly Jewish Nazi-era art dealer who was one of only four people authorized by the Nazis to trade in “degenerate art.”

German authorities are still working to determine the rightful ownership of the artwork. It’s unclear whether Gurlitt has broken any laws. Over the years he has sold a few of the works to support himself. Most recently, he sold “The Lion Tamer,” by the German artist Max Beckmann, which fetched $1.17 million at auction. Gurlitt gave 45% of the proceeds to the Jewish family which originally owned the piece.

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