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November 20, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: Research aimed at differentiating stolen art from that which legally belongs to the collector

"Gurlitt may have part of seized art trove returned to him," according to a quote by the Augsburg prosecutor Tuesday (November 19). The German Deutsche Welle (DW) quoted Reinhard Nemetz: 
Augsburg prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz said in a statement on Tuesday that artwork that was not suspicious, not stolen by the Nazis and "undoubtedly was the property of the accused" would be returned to Gurlitt "immediately." 
"It is of key importance that works taken in connection with the Nazi persecution be identified so that outstanding property claims can be settled and possible previous owners can exercise their rights," said Nemetz.
"Berlin Art Expert to Lead Research on Munich Find", announces De Spiegel today in an article by Michael Sontheimer: the art historian Uwe Hartmann is the leaders of The Center for Provenance Investigation and Research at the Institute for Museum Research of the Berlin State Museums-Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.
As scientific director of a task force, he is responsible for shedding light on the darkness of a case which has been followed by art lovers around the world for the past two weeks -- the seizure of hundreds of paintings, drawings and etchings from the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, some of which may be art that had been looted by the Nazis. The collection had belonged to his father Hildebrand Gurlitt, who had collaborated with the Nazis after 1933. 
Earlier this month, Hartmann already publicly stated his own position about the art. "In many cases, we're not dealing with art looted by the Nazis," he told the German news agency DPA. "We must therefore act on the assumption Mr. Gurlitt is lawfully in possession of this property." 
Hartmann is charged with pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for the public prosecutors in Augsburg, who seized Gurlitt's art collection at the end of February 2012 on a very questionable legal basis. But his work will also be on behalf of the Bavarian state government and officials at the Finance Ministry in Berlin who were informed of the sensational discovery but said and did nothing about it -- and Germany itself.
The task for will be 'under the political guidance of lawyer Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, who served between 2008 and this April as a deputy to Bernd Neumann, the federal government's commissioner for culture and the media.'
Hartmann is to act as academic head of the task force. Alongside Hoffman, five other art historians will be hired temporarily or borrowed from museums. The Bavarian representatives want these art experts to have a public prosecutor at their side, as well. The exact identities of the other members of the task force, however, shall remain secret. That, of course, will leave less room for the transparency Westerwelle has demanded. 
Berggreen-Merkel announced as a first measure that the public prosecutor's office in Augsburg will publish images of 576 paintings which are suspected to be looted art at as soon as possible. But prosecutors must still determine the legal basis for releasing the images on the Internet given that Gurlitt hasn't been accused of committing any crime.
In addition, Neumann writes:
But it is unlikely the researchers will be able to act with the urgency required. At the annual meeting of the Provenance Research Working Group last week in Hamburg, the around 60 attendees spoke of "undertaking the requisite research into the Munich art find as speedily as possible, but also in the necessary scientific quality." 
The working group has existed for 10 years, but its members have not been able to agree on a standard for provenance specifications. It's more likely it will take the task force years rather than months to identifiy possible looted art in Gurlitt's collection. "Each case is unique," said one provenance researcher, "every picture is different."

At first, it also appeared that politicians and officials in Berlin were hesitant to include members of the Jewish Claims Conference among the experts reviewing the Gurlitt collection. With pressure growing, however, officials announced Monday that 10 experts would be part of the group probing the artworks, including two researchers with the organization, which has sought the return or restitution of Jewish property lost during the Holocaust. 
"The Claims Conference has represented the interests of Jews persecuted by the Nazis for more than six decades in all questions about damages and restitution," Rüdiger Mahlo, the international organization's German representative, said last week. "It is self-explanatory that there should be representation of the Jewish victims on such a commission." 
While the task force is being created, investigators in Augsburg are still receiving inquiries from lawyers who want to know whether artworks they are looking for on behalf of the heirs to the victims have been found in Gurlitt's apartment. Some 100 lawyers have already registered their interest with the public prosecutor's office. They have not received any answers.
While lawyers' enquiries are based on 'Gurlitt's apartment', as in the art dealer who purchased art for Hitler's proposed museum in his hometown of Linz and who traveled to Paris on art buying trips 10 times from 1942 to 1945, the German Government's website,, lists some images of the Hildebrand-Cornelius art collection under an art fund named after the district in which the apartment in Munich was located -- "Schwabinger Kunstfund".