The German recluse who hid his late father’s trove of Nazi-stolen art may be its legal owner today, but Germany has the authority — and moral obligation, some argue — to return the art to their Jewish owners and/or heirs.
The status of the haul is ambiguous nearly 70 years after World War Two, subject to conflicting claims and obscured by the secretive world of art dealing. The man in whose Munich flat it was found, Cornelius Gurlitt, may even get to keep it. Last year customs investigators seized 1,400 art works by European masters dating from the 16th century to the avant garde which had been hoarded by his father, one of the men Adolf Hitler put in charge of selling so-called “degenerate” art.
Hailed as one of the most significant discoveries of art looted by the Nazis, it has fueled feverish speculation about its provenance and likely claims from the heirs of Jewish collectors robbed, dispossessed or murdered by the Nazis.
"The legal situation as far as I can tell is that Gurlitt is the rightful owner of a large share of the work in question - even if that is questionable from a moral and ethical point of view," said Uwe Hartmann, head of the government agency charged with researching the provenance of art in public collections.
But Germany, already under fire for keeping the hoard secret for nearly a year, could face further criticism if it allows Gurlitt to keep the paintings, sketches and sculptures.
Photos: first image is of previously-unknown artwork by Marc Chagall; second image is by Henri Matisse (‘Sitting Woman’); third image is of artwork by Franz Marc ‘Pferde in Landschaft’ (‘Horses in Landscape’); fourth image is of two formerly unknown paintings by German artist Otto Dix. Photos by REUTERS/Michael Dalder.