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May 7, 2014

Cornelius Gurlitt Art Collection: Vanity Fair's Alex Shoumatoff Reported on the Case Last Month

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Cornelius Gurlitt had artwork at both his apartment in the Schwabing neighborhood of Munich and a residence in Saltzburg. In November 2013, the Augsburg state prosecutor described the 1,406 artworks (121 framed, 1,285 unframed) found February 2012 in Gurlitt's Schwabing apartment as oil paintings, drawings, and prints from artists such as Matisse, Marc Chagall, Otto Dix, and Max Liebermann. In March 2014, Gurlitt's attorney said that of 236 artworks in Gurlitt's Saltzburg home, of which 39 were oil paintings, about 7 had been done by Cornelius' Gurlitt's grandfather Louis.

The cover of the April 2014 issue of Vanity Fair includes the headline: "Uncovering a $1 Billion Nazi Art Stash: Not in 1945 -- Now! by Alex Shoumatoff p. 174." Online, Shoumatoff's article is under "The Devil and the Art Dealer". Shoumatoff, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and a former writer for The Washington Post and The New Yorker, describes in his 13-page article (including photographs) Gurlitt's 'trove' as 'worth more than a billion dollars'.

Shoumatoff describes how the December 2011 sale by Cornelius Gurlitt of Max Beckmann's "The Lion Tamer", of which the heirs of Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim received 40% of the proceeds and an admission from Cornelius Gurlitt that "the Beckmann had been sold under duress by Flechtheim in 1934 to his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt. This bombshell gave traction to the government's suspicion that there might be more art in Gurlitt's apartment."

After Hildebrand Gurlitt -- himself one-quarter Jewish -- opened an art gallery in Hamburg after Hitler appointment as Chancellor in 1933, Gurlitt acquired 'forbidden art at bargain prices from Jews fleeing the country or needing money to pay the devastating capital-flight tax and, later, the Jewish wealthy levy', Shoumatoff wrote, and was later appointed to Goebbels' Commission for the Exploitation of Degenerate Art, whose job it was to sell degenerate (as defined by the Nazis) art abroad: 'Hildebrand was permitted to acquire degenerate artworks himself, as long as he paid for them in hard foreign currency, an opportunity that he took advantage of.'

You can read the rest of the article to find out what Soumatoff reports on Gurlitt's activities in Nazi-occupied Paris and the investigation 70 years later into the artwork held by Hildebrand's son.