World War II Art Horde Discovered in Munich

A previously unknown work by Henri Matisse (1869-1954). It dates from the mid-1920s and is in the Munich horde. Image Source: Focus.

90 per cent of the works of art looted and plundered by the Nazi are still unaccounted for. There are reports today that a 1 billion euro horde of paintings, stolen from Jewish owners during World War II, has been uncovered in a raided flat in Munich. The story was broken by Germany's Focus magazine (see their reports here and here). Some of the works are so-called 'degenerate' 20th century pieces, reviled by the Nazis. Many others were done by European masters, from Durer, to Matisse, to Chagall, and some of these have never been seen before. In other words, this find changes art history. The art world is buzzing with this news and keen to see the full collection.

Image Source: The Province.

However, the authorities are not posting the full collection online, and are telling descendants of original Jewish owners to contact the police and identify the artworks and place claims. You can see a small selection of the paintings here.

It appears that the horde was collected by a Munich art curator, Hildebrandt Gurlitt, who procured the artworks legally (although the legality of buying plunder at auction was later challenged) during the war, when fleeing Jews sold their possessions at rock bottom prices. According to Focus, Gurlitt had Jewish roots, but dealt with the Nazis. Police know this already from the son of the curator, and owner of the flat, who has just disappeared, presumably to dodge publicity, auditors and charges of tax evasion and money-laundering. From The Province:
Art historians specializing in returning looted Nazi artwork to their rightful owners have demanded that the German authorities reveal the details of a hugely valuable collection of paintings, discovered in a Munich flat.
The remarkable horde of paintings, valued at an estimated euros 1 billion, was found hidden behind piles of junk in the flat of reclusive 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt. It was discovered by chance in spring 2011 when prosecutors began investigating Mr Gurlitt for tax avoidance, but its existence was made public only at the weekend.
Anne Webber, the founder and co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, said there were some “very hard questions” for the Bavarian government as to why it had kept the haul secret for two and a half years. “We need to ask why they haven’t published a list of all the paintings that have been found, so that the families who are looking for their paintings, and have been looking for the past 75 years, can find them,” she added.
The collection has been stored at the customs office in Garching, north of Munich, with an art historian hired 18 months ago to provide an expert assessment. Mr Gurlitt could have hidden other works elsewhere, Der Spiegel suggested. Prosecutors will hold a press conference Tuesday to provide more detail.
Gurlitt’s father Hildebrandt was a prominent Munich art dealer, who is thought to have acquired works deemed “degenerate” that had largely been seized from Jewish collectors.

See reports here, here, here  and here.

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