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November 6, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection Discovery: Augsburg Press Conference on November 5 reacts to Focus exclusive

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Yesterday's Augsburg press conference followed publication Sunday by the German magazine Focus of the discovery of an art collection of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a German art dealer of modern art active during the Nazi era.

Here's a video posted by the British newspaper, the Guardian, on November 5, 2013:
A press conference in Augsburg shows some of the 1,406 unknown works of art found in a Munich apartment in 2012. They include works by Matisse, Marc Chagall, and Otto Dix. Reinhard Nemetz, Augsburg state prosecutor, said (translated from German to English with subtitles provided by The Guardian): A total of 121 framed and 1,285 non-framed works, among them from famous artists, were seized. There were oil paintings, others in Indian ink, pencil, water colours, colour prints, other prints from artists like Max Liebermann and others. Dr. Meike Hoffmann, Berlin’s Free University, said (in English): “Of course, it was very emotional for me to see the works of art and to recognize that they exist but not comment to the value of the collection.
In an accompanying article ("Picasso, Matisse, and Dix among works found in Munich's Nazi art stash") written by Philip Oltermann in Berlin, the art works were described:
Treasures discovered during a raid on Cornelius Gurlitt's flat in Schwabing include a total of 1,406 works – 121 of them framed – by Franz Marc; Oskar Kokoschka; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; Max Liebermann; Ernst Ludwig Kirchner; Max Beckmann; Albrecht Dürer; a Canaletto sketch of Padua; a Carl Spitzweg etching of a couple playing music; a Gustave Courbet painting of a girl with a goat; and drawings and prints by Pablo Picasso.
Art historian Meike Hoffmann, of the Free University of Berlin, said the art world would be particularly excited about the discovery of a valuable Matisse painting from around 1920 and works that were previously unknown or unseen: an Otto Dix self-portrait dated around 1919, and a Chagall gouache painting of an "allegorical scene" with a man kissing a woman wearing a sheep's head.
Other information reported by the Guardian from the conference: 'most of the pictures had been stored professionally and were in good condition; only a couple of paintings had been slightly dirty'; the flat had been raided on 28 February 2012, not in early 2011 as Focus magazine had reported on Sunday; Gurlitt, an Austrian national owns another property in Salzburg, but a Munich customs official 'said the existence of more hidden artworks was "not likely"'; and the whereabouts of the 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt are unknown.
The emergence of old masters such as Dürer and Canaletto among the modernists further complicates the picture of the extraordinary art collection. Initial speculation had been that most of the pictures were "degenerate art" looted or confiscated by the Nazis. Now it looks likely that at least some were purchased by Cornelius Gurlitt's father, thus making him the rightful owner. One painting, by Gustave Courbet, was auctioned off -- presumably to Gurlitt senior -- as late as 1949. Hoffmann said that determining which of the works have to be returned to the descendants of their rightful owners could take a long time.
As for the authenticity of the art, the Guardian reported:
Hoffmann said she had only properly examined 500 works and could therefore not comment on the entire collection. "With the works I have done research on, I am assuming that they are authentic works. But that's just my personal assessment."
Melissa Eddy for The New York Times reported from Augsburg in "German Official Provide Details on Looted Art Trove" (November 5) identified Siegfried Klöble, the head of the Munich customs office, as the one who oversaw the operation to recover the art and Reinhard Nemetz as the chief of the state prosecutor's office.

Louise Barnett in Berlin reporting for Britain's Telegraph in "Lost Nazi art: Unknown Chagall among paintings in Berlin flat" focused on the emergence of an 'untitled allegorical scene by Marc Chagall' identified by Dr. Hoffmann as 'dating back to the mid-1920s and "was of especially high art history value"'.  Here's a link to images credited to AFP/Getty images as posted by the Telegraph.

After the press conference, Catherine Hickley for Bloomberg reported in "U.S. List Helps Heirs Track Nazi-Loot Art in Munich Cache":
A list of art compiled by U.S. troops in 1950 may help Jewish heirs identify works looted by the Nazis that wound up in a squalid Munich apartment, researchers from the Holocaust Art Restitution Project said. U.S. troops vetted Heldebrand Gurlitt's collection -- including works by Max Beckmann and Edgar Degas -- and handed it back to him 63 years ago, according to a custody receipt that Marc Masurovsky and Willi Korte, researchers at HARP, found yesterday in the National Archive in Washington.
Masurovsky told Hickley that Gurlitt 'regularly acquired works at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, where the Nazis assembled art looted from French Jewish families during the Nazi occupation. Masurovsky is the director of the Cultural Plunder Database of the objects taken from the Jeu de Paume.

Here's links to two article published prior to the conference:

And here's links to articles reacting to the news: