November 12, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: Germany listed 25 pieces of art online and will establish task force of provenance researchers to examine 970 works

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Coverage in the last week about the Gurlitt Art Collection has been published in print and online in primary sources in French and German. I have asked readers of the ARCA blog to help with identifying and summarizing into English the articles. One of our readers, Alex Kurys in Vienna, contacted us and recommended an article in, the online news he describes as the 'Austrian BBC equivalent' with primary sources of news from Associated Press or Reuters. The article, Fall Gurlitt: Behörden veröffentlichen verdächtige Werke, reports that German authorities have published today a list of 25 works on the page (The Lost Art Internet Database) from the Gurlitt case with "appropriate urgent suspicion of Nazi persecution conditional withdrawal background" will be posted. The article reports that a task force of six provenance researchers will be assembled to examine 970 works. According to the findings of the Augsburg prosecution, ORF reports, 380 works can be assigned to what the Nazis called "degenerate art" and 590 works will be checked to see if they were taken from their rightful owners during the era of National Socialism persecution. 

The Lost Art Internet Database is operated by:
Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg, Germany’s central office for the documentation of lost cultural property. It was set up jointly by the Government and the Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany and registers cultural objects which as a result of persecution under the Nazi dictatorship and the Second World War were relocated, moved or seized, especially from Jewish owners.
A search of "Gurlitt" on this Lost Art Internet Database includes a description of Wolfgang Gurlitt as a Berlin dealer and cousin of Hildebrand Gurlitt (father of Cornelius Gurlitt who's art collection was seized by Bavarian custom authorities in February 2012 for suspicion of tax evasion). Wolfgang and Hildebrand Gurlitt are both described by the Lost Art Internet Database as dealers involved in the Nazi cultural robbery. A special report "Spoils of War" from the international conference in Magdeburg in November 2001, highlights the Gurlitt art collection, but it is the collection of Wolfgang, who along with Hildebrand had close contact with Hermann Voss, the art historian who in 1942 was appointed to assemble art for the Führermuseum in Linz. The "Spoils of War" 2001 report highlights the 76 oil paintings and 33 prints Wolfgang Gurlitt sold to the City of LInz in 1953:
Wolfgang Gurlitt was not a National Socialist. There is not a single piece of evidence
among his many surviving letters from that time that he tried to ingratiate himself with
various public offices by using expressively National Socialist language. His lack of
concern in political matters was so marked that in his letters to the office responsible
for the "Linz Special Command" ("Sonderauftrag Linz") he all too often left out the
obligatory closing phrase "Heil Hitler!". His employment of a non-National Socialist,
Walter Kasten, in 1938, matches this image.

On the other hand Wolfgang Gurlitt understood well how to remain in business
between 1933 and 1945. Besides his regular activities as an art dealer he was
successful in getting involved in special projects (although on a modest scale
compared to his cousin, Hildebrand Gurlitt): these included the sale abroad of artwork
confiscated and labeled "degenerate art" ("Entartete Kunst") by the Reich's Ministry
for Propaganda, as well as making purchases for Linz’s "Führer Museum".
The "Spoils of War" 2001 report notes under "results of the research into provenance":
It is demonstrable that Gurlitt acquired artwork of previous Jewish ownership on
several occasions: through direct purchase from the Jewish owner, through auctions,
and probably also through other art dealers. The total scope and the method of
acquisition in respective cases are unclear; the number probably extends beyond those
examples proven unequivocally. Like practically all art dealers who were active
during the rule of the National Socialists, Gurlitt had no qualms about this form of
Documentation of Results:
The Mayor of the City of Linz initiated the process of examining the Gurlitt
Collection of the New Gallery of the City of Linz as far back as September 17, 1998.
The archive of the City of Linz examined – primarily through existing municipal files
– the provenance and acquisition of the pictures in stock. A comprehensive report
with the results of the research (which have been briefly summarised here), together
with a catalogue including all works in the "Gurlitt Collection" was published in
January 1999.13 The complete report has been accessible since then on the Internet at, the first public body in Austria to decide to act in this way.
1,800 hits a month (as of February 2002) to the contents of this documentation bears
witness to the active interest of the public in this matter.