German Art Hoarder in Talks With Six People Over Nazi-looted Paintings

A website launched by German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt reveals ongoing talks with individuals claiming ownership of works in his hoarded collection.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Cornelius Gurlitt, the German art collector suspected of possessing works of art stolen from Jews by the Nazis, is conducting talks with six private individuals who claim that works in his collection were previously owned by their families.

The parties are discussing the following works: “Sitting Woman” by Matisse; “Two Riders on the Beach” by Max Liebermann; two works by Otto Dix; and a collection of works that were owned by Dr. Fritz Glaser of Dresden.

Gurlitt’s associates provided no further information about the nature of the contacts.

These details appeared on a new website launched this week by Gurlitt’s attorneys and advisers. On the site, Gurlitt’s attorneys invite people to turn to them directly concerning works suspected as stolen and which are in the collection.

On the home page of the website, there is a letter signed by Gurlitt, dated Sunday. “So much has happened in recent weeks and months, and is still happening. I want only to live in peace and tranquillity with my pictures,” he wrote.

The website reveals that Gurlitt, who initially was presented as an elderly loner and eccentric, is well represented by a public relations agent, an attorney and adviser, who are conducting the battle for public opinion on his behalf, in advance of the possibility that he will stand trial or be asked to return some of the works that were confiscated from his Munich and Salzburg homes by the authorities.

Gurlitt’s associates point an accusing finger at Germany, writing that the government there is discriminating against Gurlitt because it is not taking action against museums and collectors in possession of other works that are most probably stolen.

Gurlitt’s attorney, Dr. Hannes Hartung, wrote that in Germany there are many collectors, both public and private, and the odds that part of their collections were stolen are greater than with Gurlitt’s collection. He protested that no steps have been taken against these collections and the museum directors responsible for them.

The website also maintained that the problem of stolen art in German museums has been known for a long time, and that it is certain that there’s also a great deal of stolen art in private collections as well. The website claims that the number of stolen works in private and public collections is significantly higher than in Gurlitt’s cache.

However, Gurlitt admits that the collection confiscated from his Munich home includes works of uncertain provenance, which may have been stolen from Jews during World War II. According to the website, about 3 percent of the 1,280 confiscated works – about 40 pictures – are suspected of being stolen, and 380 of the works are so-called “degenerate art” – the Nazis’ term for paintings by the top modern artists, which they confiscated.

According to Gurlitt’s associates, these works were purchased or acquired legally, for the most part, by his father – art collector Hildebrand Gurlitt, who cooperated with the Nazis.

The authorities initially raided Gurlitt’s Munich home in 2011, where they uncovered numerous art treasures. A week ago, there was a further development to the story, which has stirred up the art world, the Jewish world and Germany. It transpired that Gurlitt also kept expensive works of art in his second home in Salzburg. On Gurlitt’s website, it was claimed that 60 works kept in his Austria home have been transferred to a safe place and are being handled by professionals. No further details about them were given.

Gurlitt’s website provides no information about contacts between his associates and the special team formed by the German government, which included experts, representatives of German government ministries and representatives of the Claims Conference.

"Two Riders on the Beach” by Max Liebermann, one of the works found in the Gurlitt hoard.Credit: AP
Henri Matisse's "Sitting Woman."Credit: AP

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