Saturday 21 October 2017

Unknown works by top artists in €1bn Nazi haul

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's 'Melancholy Girl'
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's 'Melancholy Girl'
Henri Matisse's 'Sitting Woman'
The house of Mr Gurlitt in Salzburg, Austria
The owner's name written on a plate on the door

Louise Barnett Berlin

HITHERTO unknown works by some of the world's best- known artists have been discovered among the so-called Nazi art haul.

A treasure trove of art, including previously unknown works by Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Gustave Courbet, Otto Dix, Frank Marc and others has come to light in a stash hidden for decades in a German flat, with an estimated value of €1bn.

Officials now face a daunting challenge: to identify the art, determine its legal situation and find the rightful owners of the works, many of which may have been seized by the Nazi regime.

So far, officials said they have done preliminary research on only about 500 of the pieces.

At least one of the recovered works came from the Kunsthalle Mannheim collection – currently housed in a museum of modern and contemporary art in the town of Mannheim.

Dr Meike Hoffmann, an art expert from Berlin's Free University who has been charged with cataloguing the find, said the haul of some 1,400 paintings and drawings were occasionally dirty but otherwise in good condition.

They include a previously known self-portrait of Otto Dix dating back to around 1919 and an untitled allegorical scene by Marc Chagall, she told a press conference in Augsburg, Bavaria.

Dr Hoffmann said the previously unknown Chagall painting dating back to the mid-1920s was of "especially high art history value".

It was one of the 1,401 pictures – including 121 framed and 1,285 unframed – discovered at the apartment.

Among them were oil paintings, drawings, lithographs and water colours. Works by Pablo Picasso and Albrecht Duerer also came to light.

A painting by the latter artist dating back to the 16th Century was among the astonishing find, not all of which was art stolen by the Nazis.

Works by Renoir, Henri Toulouse Lautrec, Henri Matisse and Max Liebermann were also among the works discovered in the raid on Cornelius Gurlitt's apartment.

The pensioner first came under the suspicion of customs officials in September 2010 when he was seen travelling between Munich and Zurich, with large amounts of cash.

When they conducted further inquiries, they discovered that he barely existed on official records: he paid no tax, held no social security records and had never worked.

They then searched his flat and found the piles of paintings hidden behind cans of food in a squalid apartment.

Munich customs officials employed a specialist removals firm that spent three days painstakingly transporting the multi-million pound art collection out of Mr Gurlitt's corner flat.

Senior public prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz said that Mr Gurlitt's current location was unknown to the authorities.

Neighbours at Mr Gurlitt's apartment building have reportedly not seen the white-haired 80-year-old – who has an Austrian passport – since the summer.

RECLUSIVE

Austria's 'Wiener Zeitung' reported that Mr Gurlitt owns a run-down house in Salzburg's Aigen district.

The 'Salzburger Nachrichten' website said the reclusive pensioner had owned a family house with a garden in a well-heeled part of the city for more than 40 years.

"The question of whether the pensioner possibly has other artwork hoarded in the house that was stolen during the National Socialism era is so far unanswered," the newspaper said. But the Bavarian customs authorities deemed it highly unlikely that Mr Gurlitt has any more works of art stashed away.

Marcus Neher, spokesman for Salzburg's public prosecutor's office, said: "There's currently no legal action against the man in Salzburg."

Siegfried Kloeble, director of Munich Customs, said he did not believe that Mr Gurlitt had any further artwork hidden away elsewhere.

"We don't think it is likely that there are more pictures stored somewhere," he said at the press conference.

Munich Customs have come under fire for keeping the extraordinary art find under wraps for so long.

But Mr Kloeble said the sale of a Max Beckmann painting called 'Lion Tamer, Circus' by Mr Gurlitt occurred before the raid on his apartment took place.

The Munich authorities have ruled out publishing the massive art collection in full on the internet. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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