Germany returns Menzel drawing sold under Nazi persecution
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Germany returns Menzel drawing sold under Nazi persecution

Pencil drawing ‘Interior of a Gothic Church’ part of massive Gurlitt collection of art amassed under Nazi regime

Illustrative: A combination of photos released by prosecutors in Augsburg, Germany on November 12, 2013 show five of the more than 1,500 paintings believed looted by the Nazis, seized from a Munich flat of Cornelius Gurlitt. (Lostart.de/Augsburg prosecutors/ AFP/File)
Illustrative: A combination of photos released by prosecutors in Augsburg, Germany on November 12, 2013 show five of the more than 1,500 paintings believed looted by the Nazis, seized from a Munich flat of Cornelius Gurlitt. (Lostart.de/Augsburg prosecutors/ AFP/File)

Germany’s culture minister handed over an Adolph von Menzel drawing found in the massive trove of a reclusive collector to its rightful owner’s descendants Monday.

A task force examining the late Cornelius Gurlitt’s collection determined more than a year ago the work was sold as a result of Nazi persecution.

Minister Monika Gruetters’ office said she returned Menzel’s “Interior of a Gothic Church” on Monday to a representative of Elsa Cohen’s heirs. Cohen sold the piece, from 1874, to Gurlitt’s father in 1938.

The drawing was identified as looted art in late 2015, but the German government said its restitution was delayed by a court battle over Gurlitt’s will that only was resolved in December. A cousin of Gurlitt’s unsuccessfully challenged his wish to leave his collection to a Swiss museum.

Gurlitt, described in media reports as an eccentric recluse, hid the paintings, drawings and sketches in his Munich home for decades and another 239 works at a house he owned in Salzburg, Austria.

His father was one of four art dealers during the Third Reich tasked by the Nazis with selling art stolen from Jews or confiscated as “degenerate” works.

Although German authorities discovered the collection during a tax probe in 2012, they kept it under wraps for more than a year until it came to light in a magazine article.

Gurlitt struck an agreement with the German government in April 2014 stipulating that any works that were plundered by the Nazis would be returned to their rightful owners and the Bern museum said it would honor that wish.

But the heirs of collectors stripped of their assets by the Nazis, many of whom would later be killed in the death camps, have complained that restitution has been woefully slow in coming.

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