German Recluse Agrees to Return Looted Nazi Art

German government reaches deal on suspected art, seized in 2012.

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. AFP

Munich-based art hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt has reached an agreement with the German authorities allowing them to investigate the ownership of artworks found in his apartment believed to have been looted by the Nazis.

"He is committed to the voluntary return of any looted art," German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters told the broadcaster 3sat. "We are very pleased that we were able to reach an agreement with Mr. Gurlitt and his lawyers, regardless of the ongoing criminal proceedings."

German prosecutors seized about 1,400 modernist works of art - which included paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Franz Marc, Paul Klee and Max Beckmann - from Gurlitt's apartment in central Munich in March 2012.

The news only reached the public domain in November last year with many of paintings thought to have been acquired by his father, Hildebrand, who was a prominent Nazi-era art dealer.

A second hoard of art was seized in February at another property owned by Gurlitt.

It has yet to be determined how many of the artworks in Gurlitt's massive collection were actually confiscated by the Nazis, with about 600 works currently under investigation. Gurlitt is also being investigated for tax evasion.

Hildebrand Gurlitt was permitted by the Nazis to sell so-called degenerate art confiscated from museums amid a campaign by Hitler's regime against what it deemed to be un-German or Jewish-Bolshevist art.

Much of this was displayed in the Nazis' notorious degenerate art exhibition in 1937 in Munich.

Large parts of the art once belonged to Jewish collectors who were forced to sell it for a pittance before the Holocaust.

The reclusive Gurlitt, 81, launched a website in February, which claims that most of the paintings in his collection rightfully belong to him. There were doubts about the provenance of only about 3 per cent of the collection.

The agreement Monday was between Gurlitt, the federal government and the Bavarian Ministry of Justice.