Nazi dealer’s son agrees to return any stolen art

German gov’t to research the provenance of all works in Cornelius Gurlitt’s multi-billion dollar collection within one year

Otto Griebel's 'Kind am Tisch' ('Child at a Table'), among the seized works of art that were in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt. (photo credit: AP/Staatsanwaltschaft Augsburg)
Otto Griebel's 'Kind am Tisch' ('Child at a Table'), among the seized works of art that were in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt. (photo credit: AP/Staatsanwaltschaft Augsburg)

BERLIN – German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt has reached an agreement to restitute any works in a valuable cache discovered last fall that were stolen by the Nazis.

The agreement allows the German government to research the provenance of all the works in his collection. Those deemed not to have been robbed or confiscated from Jewish collectors or museums by the Nazis would be returned to Gurlitt.

According to a report Monday in the German news service Deutsche Welle, the investigation should be completed within a year.

This week’s announcement came from the state of Bavaria, the federal culture minister’s office and Gurlitt’s attorneys. The cost of the research is to be borne by the German federal government and the state of Bavaria.

In the announcement, federal Culture Minister Monika Grutters said the “agreement paved the way for fair and just resolutions, especially through restitution.”

According to the agreement, Gurlitt may have at least one expert representing him on the task force researching the provenance of the works. He also reportedly agreed to grant the task force access to the works if necessary beyond the one-year deadline.

Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, was an art dealer on assignment to the Nazis who died in 1956 in an accident; his son inherited the collection. In 2012, customs agents investigating Cornelius Gurlitt for tax evasion confiscated his Munich stash of some 1,400 works.

A detail from the painting  'Sitzende Frau' ('Sitting Woman' or 'Femme Assise'), by Henri Matisse, also part of Gurlitt's collection. (photo credit: AP/Staatsanwaltschaft Augsburg)
A detail from the painting ‘Sitzende Frau’ (‘Sitting Woman’ or ‘Femme Assise’), by Henri Matisse, also part of Gurlitt’s collection. (photo credit: AP/Staatsanwaltschaft Augsburg)

The existence of the collection — which includes works by artists such as Picasso, Dürer, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Beckmann and Matisse – was kept under wraps until Focus magazine broke the story last fall.

Spurred by art provenance researchers and restitution advocates around the world, Germany established a task force to deal specifically with the Gurlitt case. It includes experts recommended by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, among others.

In the meantime, works collected by the elder Gurlitt also were found to be stashed in his son’s home in Salzburg, Austria, as well as in other locations in Austria and Switzerland.

Gurlitt, 81, has maintained that his collection is legitimate. Earlier this year, his attorneys publicized a new website where possible heirs could contact him.

Recently they announced that the Matisse painting “Seated Woman,” which the Nazis stole from Paris art dealer Paul Rosenberg, would be returned to its rightful heirs, and that further restitutions were expected. A second claim has since been lodged for the return of the same painting, which will be investigated, according to Gurlitt’s attorney.

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