Nazi-looted Work of Art Discovered by German Task Force

The drawing once belonged to Hamburg collector Albert Martin Wolffson and was sold by his daughter Elsa Cohen, one of his heirs, to the artist's father at the end of 1938 as a result of Nazi persecution.

Geir Moulson
Some of the more than 1,000 artworks found at properties belonging to the son of a notorious Nazi art dealer.
Some of the more than 1,000 artworks found at properties belonging to the son of a notorious Nazi art dealer. Credit: Reuters
Geir Moulson

AP — A task force examining the art trove accumulated by the late German collector Cornelius Gurlitt said Wednesday that a drawing by Adolph von Menzel was sold by its owner as a result of Nazi persecution — making it the fifth work identified as having been looted under Nazi rule.

Menzel's "Church in Hofgastein" — drawn in 1874 — once belonged to Hamburg collector Albert Martin Wolffson and was sold by his daughter Elsa Cohen, one of his heirs, to Gurlitt's father at the end of 1938. The father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was an art dealer who traded in works confiscated by the Nazis.

The sale price for the work, recorded in Hildebrand Gurlitt's ledgers, doesn't appear to match the value at the time of a Menzel drawing, the task force said.

It added that it can be assumed that it was a forced sale resulting from the Cohen family's persecution, and the money was meant to help finance their subsequent flight to the United States. The family of Cohen's son fled in January 1939 and Cohen herself followed in August 1941.

It isn't clear whether Cohen ever received the proceeds of the sale, the task force said, adding that it hadn't received a claim for the drawing. It didn't detail how it will proceed with the Menzel work.

Cornelius Gurlitt died in May 2014, a few months after it emerged that authorities had seized some 1,400 items at his Munich apartment while investigating a tax case in 2012. Officials have been checking whether several hundred of the works were seized from their Jewish owners by the Nazis.

The first two, works by Henri Matisse and Max Liebermann, were handed over to their rightful owners' heirs in May.

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