In early November, the weekly German magazine Focus reported that Bavarian authorities had custody of value art collection owned by Cornelius Gurlitt whose father Hildebrand had been an art dealer to the Nazis. More than two months later, Mr. Gurlitt obtained legal counsel, Tido Park and Derek Setz, who have published a website presenting information about the Gurlitt Collection.
The website's chronology section details how a check of Cornelius Gurlitt on a train by German custom officials in September 2010 led to a search warrant a year later and the seizure in February 2012 of Gurlitt's art collection of 1,406 items from his residence in Munich. After Focus published the news of this "Nazi treasure", various government agencies initiated the process of publicizing the works amidst claims of theft. In December, a Munich court appointed a custodian, Chirstoph Edel, for Gurlitt. In January, Gurlitt's legal counsel filed 'a criminal complaint with the chief public prosecutor's office in Munich for breach of official secrecy. The main reason for the complaint was the publication of photographs of Gurlitt's apartment being searched and of other confidential details from the investigation files.' In February, more than 60 artworks were seized from Gurlitt's residence in Salzburg 'and were then insured and transported to a safe place at Mr. Gurlitt's request and at the suggestion and instigation of Christoph Edel – the court-appointed preliminary custodian – together with attorney Dr. Hannes Hartung and the professional assistance of art experts and conservators.' On Valentine's Day:
Another section on the Gurlitt Collection website, written by Munich lawyer Dr. Hannes Hartung, discusses the "Structure of the Collection of Dr. Hildebrant Gurlitt" from Gurlitt's role 'as one of the most important dealers in the German Reich' who 'acquired'Professor Tido Park and Derek Setz, the attorneys defending Cornelius Gurlitt in his criminal lawsuit, filed an appeal with the Augsburg local court on February 14 this year against the search warrant and seizure order issued by the Augsburg local court on September 23, 2011 regarding the Schwabing part of the Gurlitt collection.
works for the Führermuseum planned by Hitler in Linz, Austria. In the same year, Gurlitt purchased a very large quantity of works that had formerly been Reich property from the German Reich and that as “degenerate” art had been confiscated from German museums. After the totalitarian “integration” process (Gleichschaltung), the German Reich saw no difference, both practically and legally, between national, regional, and local governments as we have today in our federal structure.
The works originally came from the property of the German Reich and were legally acquired by Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt by way of purchase or trade. The collection of Cornelius Gurlitt confiscated in Schwabing now includes about 380 of these artwork.
Hildebrand Gurlitt’s avid acquisition activities, among other things motivated by the desire to save art labeled as degenerate from its destruction, is documented in the so-called Fischer List (see http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/e/entartete-kunst/). This list shows that Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt legally acquired many important works from former German Reich property. In many instances the works would have been destroyed if Dr. Gurlitt had not acquired them at bargain prices. The art that had been defamed as “degenerate” can therefore be considered the art historical focus of the Gurlitt collection.
Private property of the Gurlitt family
A large part of the artworks confiscated by the public prosecutors also includes works from the private collection of the Gurlitt family. Cornelius Gurlitt’s family is a major dynasty of German art historians. Some 330 works were already part of the family’s private collection before 1933 and are meant to be returned to their rightful owner, Cornelius Gurlitt, in the near future.
When the Nazis persecuted what they considered “degenerate” art, their target was the art itself and not its owners. Only in the case of looted art were the cultural assets bought up for far less than they were worth (compulsory sale), dispossessed, or confiscated. Only very few works in the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt are suspected of being looted art.
Another 590 works are the solely property of Cornelius Gurlitt. Currently (as of February 14, 2014) only four claimants assert that the Gurlitt collection contains works that may have once been appropriated from Jewish owners in the context of Nazi persecution. Stated differently, the 1,280 seized works that are the property of Cornelius Gurlitt have attracted only four claimants who demand the return of so-called looted art from Cornelius Gurlitt. Specifically, the claimants are the Rosenberg, Friedmann, Glaser, and Littmann heirs.