Experts involved in returning a trove of Nazi-looted art recently discovered by German authorities should have known about the giant cache of stolen works, a leading Austrian art expert claimed on Wednesday.
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"The existence of the collection was no secret," said Alfred Weidinger, the deputy head of Vienna's Belvedere museum, which has been involved in high-profile restitution cases of looted paintings.
"Basically, every important art dealer in the southern German region knew that it existed," Weidinger told the Austrian press agency APA.
German investigators are now trying to research the ownership history of some 1,500 art works that were discovered by authorities in an apartment in Munich, owned by 79-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt - the son of a leading Nazi-era art trader.
Gurlitt also owns a house in the Austrian town of Salzburg, but Austrian authorities say they have received no request yet from Germany to search it.
Restitution experts could have easily followed the traces to the Gurlitt family's treasure, Weidinger said.
Gurlitt financed himself by selling pictures from time to time. His father had claimed that the collection of works by artists such as Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse was destroyed in World War II.