November 14, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: Who owns it and who wants it?

Why the interest in the Hildebrand-Cornelius Art Collection? FOCUS Magazine's article on "Nazi Treasure" did not identify the 1,400 artworks and their collecting history (provenance) in custody of by Bavarian customs officials in a tax evasion investigation. However, Hildebrand Gurlitt sold pictures for the Nazis out of Germany and France. One painting, Max Beckmann's "Lion Tamer", sold in October 1911 did belong to Alfred Flechtman and his heirs reached an agreement with Cornelius Gurlitt and the Kunsthaus Lempertz in Cologne before the painting sold to share the proceeds. So what other paintings belong to heirs of Jewish art dealers and collectors who had their property stolen between 1933 and 1945?

"Nazi Loot Heirs Look to Reclusive Hoarder to Recover Art", by Alex Webb and Catherine Hickley, November 13, 2013, News from Bloomberg/Bloomberg Businessweek.
"Collectors should be happy that Cornelius and his father preserved the paintings rather than let them be destroyed" by Germany's Nazi regime, said Ekkeheart (cousin), who describes Cornelius as "a real oddball" who restored paintings and has a passion for art.... Gurlitt could have legal claim to the art because of Germany's 30-year statue of limitations and a rule called "Ersitzung," under which the possessor of property gains title after 10 years unless he or she is deemed to have acted in bad faith. If Gurlitt refused to negotiate, heirs will have to fight for the art in court -- with little chance of success, according to Bischof & Paetown, a Berlin law firm that specialized in restitution cases.... The German government says 590 works in Gurlitt's cache may have come from Jewish owners. About 380 were identified as works the Nazis seized from German museums as "degenerate" -- their term for modernist art. The remaining 430 or so works, it said in a Nov. 11 press release, "clearly have no connection with 'degenerate art' or Nazi loot."
[According to sources, Cornelius' brother-in-law in Stuttgart, Nikolaus Fraessle, delivered 22 artworks to police to protect the art.]
After Hildebrand's Dresden home was destroyed by the February 1945 Allied firebombing that leveled much of the city, he and his family -- including the then-12-year-old Cornelius -- fled for the village of Aschbach in Bavaria. It was there that U.S. forces found him, sheltering in the castle of a Baron Poellnitz with crates of art including works by Picasso, Edgar Degas and Dix. Hildebrand Gurlitt died in 1956 in a car crash.


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