Monday 18 December 2017

€1bn Nazi art collection was bought for just 4,000 francs

Louise Barnett Berlin

THE art dealer whose son was found to have hoarded a treasure trove of masterpieces in his Munich flat paid the Nazis just 4,000 Swiss francs for 200 paintings now thought to be worth up to €1bn.

Hildebrand Gurlitt was sold the collection – which included works by Chagall and Picasso – by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, in May 1940, according to a purchase contract published by a German newspaper.

The 200 artworks described as "degenerate" by the Nazis are thought to be part of the stash of 1,406 pictures discovered last year in a Munich flat belonging to Hildebrand Gurlitt's 80-year-old son, Cornelius.

Gurlitt Snr, who died in 1956, bought the oil paintings, watercolours and drawings via a foreign currency transfer to the bank account "EK".

"That was exactly 20 Swiss francs for each work which today are worth hundreds of thousands, or millions – including Chagall's 'The Walk', Picasso's 'Farming Family' and 'Hamburg Harbour' by Nolde," the newspaper reported.

The property transfer took effect once the propaganda ministry's bank had confirmed receipt of payment, the purchase contract says.

Mr Gurlitt Snr acquired a further 115 works from Goebbels' ministry in 1941.

Germany's finance ministry is in possession of further purchase and transfer agreements drawn up between Goebbels' ministry and Mr Gurlitt Snr, said the newspaper 'Bild am Sonntag'.

The art dealer had claimed until his death that his valuable art collection was destroyed in a fire.

That story was widely accepted until a week ago, when the Bavarian authorities admitted seizing more than 1,400 pictures from the Munich flat.

The revelation prompted an international outcry and demands for full disclosure of artworks seized and an explanation of why the German authorities had hushed up their find since February 2012.

Reclusive Cornelius Gurlitt, an Austrian passport-holder, vanished after news broke of his impounded art collection.

The German authorities have denied all knowledge of his whereabouts despite already charging him with tax evasion.

RECLUSE

French reporters claim to have tracked him down near the same flat from which the art hoard was seized.

The journalists, from 'Paris Match' magazine, say they spoke to Mr Gurlitt in a Munich shopping centre on Friday afternoon. Their report is likely to cause a frenzied local search for the recluse.

Separately, German authorities confiscated 22 paintings on Saturday from the house of Mr Gurlitt's brother-in-law, Nikolaus Fraessle, near Stuttgart, 'Bild' reported, after he called police himself to hand over the art.

Earlier in the week officials had down-played the possibility of a second hoard of masterpieces.

However, now the suspicion is rising that Mr Gurlitt may have more treasures scattered at secret locations throughout Germany. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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