Previous Posts: November 2013

Nazi loot extravaganza

November 4 2013

Image of Nazi loot extravaganza

Picture: Focus

Up to 1500 artworks, from Durer to Picasso, stolen by the Nazis and lost since the war have been found in a flat in Munich. From The Guardian:

The works, which would originally have been confiscated as "degenerate art" by the Nazis or taken from Jewish collectors in the 1930s and 1940s, had made their way into the hands of a German art collector, Hildebrand Gurlitt. When Gurlitt died, the artworks were passed down to his son, Cornelius – all without the knowledge of the authorities.

Gurlitt, who had not previously been on the radar of the police, attracted the attention of the customs authorities only after a random cash check during a train journey from Switzerland to Munich in 2010, according to Focus. Further police investigations led to a raid on Gurlitt's flat in Schwabing in spring 2011. Police discovered a vast collection of masterpieces by some of the world's greatest artists.

The artworks are thought to have been stored amid juice cartons and tins of food on homemade shelves in a darkened room. Since their seizure, they have been stored in a safe customs building outside Munich, where the art historian Meike Hoffmann, from Berlin university, has been assessing their precise origin and value. When contacted by the Guardian, Hoffmann said she was under an obligation to maintain secrecy and would not be able to comment on the Focus report until Monday.

Very weird that the German police have know about this since 2011, but have not made a squeak since. You can see the original story in Focus, in German, here. You can see Godfrey Barker discuss the discovery here, and a shot of the unassuming flat where the pictures were found here. There's an ecellent interview with Anne Webber from the Commission for Looted Art in Europe on the Today programme here, at 1hr 22 mins in. Anne rightly says that the police's two and half year delay in publishing the list of looted pictures is almost as big a story as the discovery itself. She says that there is a 'culture of secrecy' in that part of Germany when it comes to Nazi loot. Munich, of course, was where the Nazi party began.

Update - a reader writes:

What one wonders of course is precisely what was going on with that trove of art.  

The non owner who has held it is a recluse but realized about USD 1.2 million from one sale in recent years.  More than he appears to spend in a decade.  And there were other sales.

Was this being held to finance a nefarious purpose or is that just a plot for the next Michael Fassbender film.

Of course perhaps it is just further proof to the remaining deniers of what happened in Europe seventy years ago.

Update II - Catherine Hickley has more information at Bloomberg:

A stash of art uncovered in a Munich apartment in 2012 included top quality works that were previously unknown, among them a self-portrait by Otto Dix, said Meike Hoffmann, an art historian investigating the hoard.

The cache of almost 1,500 paintings, lithographs, drawings and prints included works by Max Beckmann, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Oskar Kokoschka, Franz Marc, Pierre Auguste Renoir and Max Liebermann, said Siegfried Kloeble of the Munich customs authorities. Some of the art dates back as far as the 16th century. It was stored correctly and in good condition, Hoffmann said.

Some works were seized by the Nazis from German museums -- others may have been sold by Jewish families under duress, Hoffmann said. Reinhard Nemetz, the chief prosecutor in Augsburg, said authorities won’t publish a list of the artworks online.

“The legal situation of the artworks is very complex,” Nemetz said at a news conference today in Augsburg. “We don’t want a situation where there are 10 claims for one painting.”

This last statement is completely bonkers. It just sounds as if Herr Nemetz can't be bothered to return these pictures to their rightful owners.

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