November 9, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: Images of FOCUS Magazine 'Exclusive' Continued


The article includes information about three art dealers who had handled (bought and sold) degenerate paintings during the Nazi regime: Karl Buchholz, who opened a gallery in New York City and conducted business from Spain to Romania for Joseph Goebbels; Ferdinand Möller, an international dealer in Expressionist paintings who made a lot of money selling confiscated (including degenerate) -- he held back a lot of expensive paintings and pictures for himself and after the war he showed the invoices that he had bought them for himself (FOCUS); and Bernhard Böhmer, a sculptor and a dealer, who as an associate for National Socialism became a millionaire before committing suicide at the end of the war.



November 8, 2013

Friday, November 08, 2013 - No comments

Gurlitt Art Collection: NPR: "US Documents Raise Questions on Munich Art Hoard (Hildebrand-Cornelius Gurlitt Art Collection)

Here on Nov. 7, National Public Radio (NPR) published online an article by the Associated Press on the subject of the relationship with Hildebrand Gurlitt and the Allied interrogators after the war ended.
In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, the American military seized 20 boxes of art from German dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt in Aschbach in December 1945, according to documents located by The Associated Press in the U.S. National Archives in Washington.
Noted excerpts:
American investigators at the time expressed doubts about Gurlitt's claims to the works, but they eventually decided that in most cases he was the rightful owner. So on Dec. 15, 1950, the U.S. returned 206 items to him: 115 paintings, 19 drawings and 72 "various other objects."
The three paintings that the Americans returned to Cornelius' father in 1950 and which have showed up in the Munich trove are Max Liebermann's "Two Riders on the Beach;" Otto Dix's self-portrait and an allegorical painting by Marc Chagall.
Christoph Zuschlag, an art historian at the University of Koblenz, said the American documents indicated U.S. investigators suspected right after the war that Gurlitt may have been in possession of looted art.
He said if German authorities published a full list of the find at the apartment, then experts could determine more quickly whether Gurlitt was the rightful owner.
"As a historian, I have to say pictures and information about all the art has to be published online immediately," he said. "A whole team of experts should work on this discovery and try to answer all the remaining open questions."
Spokeswoman Hillary Kessler-Godin said the Claims Conference already has an online database of 20,000 looted objects based on the Nazis' own records that is searchable by owner, artist and other keywords. She said that could be easily used to determine if there are any claims on the Gurlitt collection.
"Our experts believe that a number of the works found in Munich could be in this database," Kessler-Godin said in an email. "Keeping the list a secret hinders the process of expeditious restitution."

November 7, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: Excerpts from the 1945 Allied Interrogation via Lootedart.com

Dr. Hildebrant Gurlitt subjected his 208-piece art collection to scrutiny by the U.S. Army in 1945 and filed the necessary paperwork for its return five years later, according to information provided by The Central Registry of Information on Looted Cultural Property 1933-1945's Lootedart.com, "Hildebrand Gurlitt: Allied Interrogation June 1945; List of Artworks in his Collection Returned to him by the Allies in 1950 and the Related Documentation":
On 8-10 June 1945 Hildebrand Gurlitt was interrogated at Aschback by Lieutenant Dwight McKay of the US Third Army about his activities as a Nazi art dealer. The statement resulting from that interrogation, in which, inter alia, he denied ever handling seized art in France, and in which he lists some of the sources of acquisition of the works in the collection, is available here.
The "translation of sworn statement written by Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt" -- declassified in 1977 -- includes a life history (his grandfather Louis Gurlitt was a landscape painter) and his military service (officer of infantry from 1914 to 18) and his job as director of the City Art Gallery in Zwickau 1925-1930 when he 'incurred the enmity of the Nazis and was dismissed'.
After my dismissal in Zwickau (1930) I gave lessons of history of art in the Academy of Applied Art in Dresden, published a book about Kathe Kollwitz (a then famous German woman-artist) public debates against Nazi-art and wrote articles for the Vossische and Frankfurter Zeitung. 
1931 I was called to Hamburg as director of the Kunstverein. I arranged exhibitions, lectures about modern art, unpopular with the Nazi movement. Made an exhibition of modern English art, one of modern German art in Sweden, made trips to England and Scandinavia. Was dismissed in 1933 on account of my Anti-Nazi feelings. Got denounced because I had the flagpole of the Gallery sawed off, in this way avoiding the showing of the swastica flag.
After Keunstverain Hamburg, Dr. Gurlitt opened an art gallery in 1934 where he 'went on trips for great German Museums. 1939 I was in Switzerland, then in Paris.' Dr. Gurlitt explains that he had to 'decide between the war or work for the museums.' He was 'called by Dr. Voss' (who had been 'appointed as successor to the directorship of the museum in Dresden and as commissioner for the Fuhrermuseum in Linz') 'to help him with the buying of paintings in Paris.' He explains the the 'purchases in Paris were perfectly normal':
I had given to me the photos of paintings and mostly Dr. Voss bought them wihtout having seen them, entirely on the strength of my descriptions. Any force whatsoever was not used. If Dr. Voss thought the pictures to (sic) expensive, he did not buy them.
He later says: 'I have never bought a picture, which was not offered voluntary to me. If paintings were pointed out to be as not for sale, I did not even ask for the price. I did not need to do so as I had enough offers.'
How it was with pictures from Jewish collections 
As I heard, the Jewish owned art treasures in France were seized by a law, but which I have never seen with my eyes. I know that the German Ambassador used a Baroque Writing desk which came from the Rothschild collection. I also saw marvellous Franch drawings from the 18th century in the rooms of the German Embassy, which were said to come from the same source. It was told to me, that there existed in paris a palace in which the Jewish art possessions were collected and where they were divided among the different officials. I never went to this building. They told me that a certain Mr. Lohse, who was acting for Goring, was the chief of this house. I avoided meeting this man and met him only once in an exhibition without my intention. I always avoided to meet high Nazi-Officials in Paris. I was only once to a large reception in the embassy together with hundreds of people. There was rumor that the Gestapo bought under pressure, paintings from private or dealers, which I heard very often, but I never could prove it or even get reliable information, as I otherwise should have gone after such an accusation and would have informed Prof. Voss privately. I did notice indeed that I was not shown many pictures, which were reserved for other dealers.
According to Dr. Gurlitt, he made 10 trips to Paris between the summer 1941 and June 1944: 'In total I acquired about 200 paintings in France and have given them to museums.' His 'income increased steadily, because I was very active and developed my business more and more.' As to his 'personal fortunes' he includes 'the safe deposit box of the Dresdner Bank' of 'silver and the paintings of my father and also the pictures of my deceased sister'. He denies having any paintings from the Dresden Museum in his possession: 'All pictures I brought with me from Saxonia are the personal property of my family or myself. I have never in the house pictures of other owners. '
I was told, that I was a poor man before the Nazis came and that I now have money and a whole truck-load of paintings. To that I have to reply, that I was well off as director of the Kunstverein Hamburg with a monthly salary of 600 R.M. and a commission on every picture sold. I had an apartment of 12 rooms, a very large library and a nice art collection. I had a good future ahead of me and would inherit one day the house of my mother in Dresden, with the library and collections of my father, his personal fortune and the contents of 14 rooms filled with antique furniture. Dismissed by the Nazis, I became an art dealer, very much against my purely scientific intentions.
In the list of 'Contents of opened boxes in Castle Aschback belonging to H. Gurlitt' it is written that he purchased a Courbet from Engel in Paris for 150,000 French francs; that a Liebermann was 'from the possession of my father who bought it in Rome'; a Picasso bought from the artist in Paris in 1942 for 60,000 French francs; a Chagall, 'old possession of my sister, who was a pupil of her'(?); a Dix from Berlin in 1934; and a Nolde, 'gift of the artist to me'.

Here's a link to the list of works returned to Gurlitt in 1950 (also published in The New York Times here).

Lootedart.com notes that 'on the list is the MaxBeckmann 'Lion Tamer' sold by Cornelius Gurlitt at Lempertz Cologne in 2011 (previously owned by Alfred Flechtheim with claims settled prior to the auction house sale). Patricia Cohen writes about this in The New York Times' "Documents Reveal How Looted Nazi Art Was Restored to Dealer".

On another note, Mail Online ran the story "Can the weirdo who hid £1bn of Nazi art solve the mystery of the Tsar's lost treasure trove" which includes statements from Cornelius Gurlitt's estranged cousin.

Thursday, November 07, 2013 - , No comments

Gurlitt Art Collection: Petition on Change.org to urge Germany to publish list of artworks associated with the Hildebrand Gurlitt-Cornelius Gurlitt investigation

Lynda Albertson initiated a petition on Change.org: "Germany: Immediately publish the list of art works associated with the Hildebrand Gurlitt-Cornelius Gurlitt investigation":
This case poses a legal and moral minefield for authorities. The Nazi regime systematically plundered thousands of art works from museums and individuals across Europe. An unknown number of those works are still missing.  We need to instill a culture of transparency, not just with museum and private collections worldwide but also in ongoing investigations where artworks have been recovered or seized.
Here's art critic Christopher Knight asking in The Los Angeles Times to "Lift the veil from the Nazi art cache".

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:

Gurlitt Art Collection: BBC Newshour Interviews Marc Masurovsky of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project and Clarence Epstein of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project

Marc Masurovsky of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) and Clarence Epstein of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project were interviewed http://soundcloud.com/dina-newman/looted yesterday by BBC Newshour as to his reaction to the headlines out of Germany about the exclusive released by Focus magazine that Bavarian customs officials had discovered a hoard of suspected Nazi-era looted art belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt. Here's an excerpt:
Interviewer: How significant do you think it is? 
Marc Masurovsky: Well, it's always significant in terms of the numbers, but it's also one of those I told you so moments where everybody loves to believe that everything was destroyed so that we don't have to deal with it, but unfortunately there were enough dealers and collectors who profited from the Holocaust and Nazi plunder that they basically stashed the works away. What I'm curious about is how many did Mr. Cornelius Gurlitt sell before he was nabbed? So that's another question that doesn't seem to get asked.
Here's a link to "Plundered Cultures, Stolen Heritagethe conference at Concordia University in Montreal opening tomorrow that will gather "leading experts on the experiences of cultural destruction and mass atrocities suffered by the First Nations, Armenian and Jewish peoples are assembling to discuss the motives of the perpetrators of these assaults, their impact, and the significance these attacks pose for restitution and reconciliation today." Mr. Masurovsky will be one of the speakers.

November 5, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: Granddaughter of the Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg tells CNN she first heard about the found paintings from Focus Magazine last week

Here in an CNN interview with Marianne Rosenberg, the granddaughter of art collector and dealer Paul Rosenberg, the New York art dealer says that she heard from Focus magazine that one of her grandfather's paintings may have been found. Ms. Rosenberg says that she remains "cautious" as "German authorities have said nothing." Last weekend the German magazine Focus published an article in which it claimed that a Matisse previously owned by Paul Rosenberg (Portrait of a Woman) had been found by Bavarian customs officials in 2011. Ms. Rosenberg explains that an archive is maintained of her grandfather's collection.

The Paul Rosenberg Archive describes the Parisian art dealer:

Paul Rosenberg's legendary 'stock' included a rich selection of paintings, drawings and sculptures by Géricault, Ingres, Delacroix, Courbet, Rodin, Cézanne, Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir, and Lautrec, along with the works by his modern artists, and regularly complemented by works of Henri Rousseau, Aristide Maillol. Odilon Redon and Amedeo Modigliani. His 'stock' from artists in the United States included painting and sculpture by Marsden Hartley, Max Weber, Abraham Rattner, Karl Knaths, Harvey Weiss, Oronzio Maldarelli. Both Paul and his son Alexandre also had contracts with Nicolas de Staël and Graham Sutherland. Alexandre Rosenberg was the American representative and close friend of the sculptors Kenneth Armitage and Giacomo Manzù.

Paul Rosenberg opened a new branch of his Paris gallery - managed by his well-known antiquarian brother-in-law Jacques Helft - in London between World War I and World War II. From 1920 until the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, Paul Rosenberg's company was widely acknowledged to be without doubt the most active and influential gallery in the world in the field of 19th and 20th century French painting, specializing in the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Cubist schools, as well as in the developments contemporary to these 'schools'. All of the museums of the Western world and all of the great private collectors became clients of Rosenberg, and his exhibitions became points of reference for the promotion of quality painting.

Having foreseen the imminence of the Second World War, Paul Rosenberg began to send his collections abroad, especially to England, America, Australia and South America and then put a hold on the operations of his Paris galleries. Even prior to his departure from France with his wife and daughter, his many friends in the United States encouraged and assisted his establishment in New York, where the Rosenbergs arrived, via Lisbon, in September of 1940. Rosenberg presence in New York had attracted so much interest that an issue of the Art Digest declared that "When rumor first intimated that Paul Rosenberg, internationally known Paris dealer in modern art, would open a gallery in New York, 57th Street anticipated something akin to a clap of thunder." Throughout the war and after its end, he was able to re-assemble in New York a very large proportion, though not all of his gallery stock and his personal collections. In this way, and almost without interruption or discontinuity, he re-established his gallery in New York and recommenced the activity previously undertaken in Paris.

This New York Times article by Tom Mashberg recounts the negotiations over the provenance of a Matisse painting once owned by Paul Rosenberg and now on display in Oslo.

Gurlitt Art Collection OpEd: An ad-hoc International Art Crime Tribunal for the Munich Gurlitt pictures?

by Judge Arthur Tompkins
arthur.tompkins@gmail.com

The finding of a treasure trove of so-called ‘degenerate’ art in a Munich flat will trigger many challenges, not the least of which is, what to do with all these unique and, inevitably, storied art works? Having, almost certainly, been stolen from their original owners around 70 or so years ago now, they should, each and every one of them, be returned to the heirs of those same dispossessed owners, wherever and whoever they might be.

Doing that, or getting close to doing that, is the great challenge now faced by, initially, the Bavarian and the German federal authorities, but in the end it should not be a challenge faced, nor indeed resolved, by them alone.

Undoing the great harm of the theft of any work of art, and all the more so when, as here, the thefts were all part of the greater evil of the Nazi regime, and perpetrated amid the chaos and uncertainty of gathering and then actual war, is a uniquely international problem. It demands both an international but also a creative answer. Leaving the fate of these precious works of art, and the hopes of the many and various claimants, handicapped as they will by the burdens of lost memories, lost or destroyed evidence, departed or disappeared witnesses, and all the ragged turmoil of the passing of the years, to the vagaries and the lottery of an administrative or judicial process within a domestic legal system is an inadequate response.

What is needed is, in short, an ad-hoc International Art Crime Tribunal.  Such a Tribunal would be assisted by art historians, provenance researchers, advocates to assist the commission and, crucially, claimant advocates and advisers  who will work with claimants so that they can properly and effectively present their claims. By this means the Tribunal could create the kind of neutral ground necessary for the lasting resolution of the disputes that will inevitably arise concerning the art.


The Tribunal should be entrusted with the task of resolving the fate of each work of art, not only by deciding the historical and legal claim or claims to it, but also by explicitly evaluating, and giving equal weight to, the moral claim of the claimant.  This is crucial – in the past claims to art looted in wartime have been undermined or destroyed by an insufficiency of legal evidence to establish prior ownership, where the moral claim for return of looted art is clear.

The Tribunal should have the ability to, and the processes to, adjudicate and determine claims by a binding judgment.  But throughout the claim process, a spectrum of alternative dispute resolution tools should be employed to resolve claims by agreement, and, if appropriate, to resolve claims by agreed solutions, which may enable unresolvable factual or legal issues simply to be left unresolved.

In addition, the Tribunal should seek not only to return the paintings found in the Munich flat, but should also proactively pursue those sold over the years by Herr Gurlitt. Media reports record that he was, from time to time, seemingly in the habit of selling individual works, to defray living expenses and the like. It would be unlikely that any gallery handling the sale of works such as these could claim to be ignorant of the vast history of the Nazi campaign against degenerate art, nor indeed would many collectors be similarly unaware. That paintings such as these would suddenly appear, unannounced and unaccompanied by any real provenance, inevitably places an immediate obligation to seek out such provenance and, in its absence, at the very least to refusing to handle the sale.  The fate of those sold stolen art works should not be ignored.

None of this is new. Precedents for all these aspects of the proposed Tribunal exist, and have in a variety of settings and circumstances been used during the many decades following Hitler’s defeat. The challenges presented by these pictures provide a rare chance, that should not be missed, to bring together many of the valuable lessons learnt over the long years of hard-won, accumulated experience gained in trying to undo the art crimes of the Nazis

There are great challenges here, but also great opportunities. Answering the difficult question, what now to do with these art works, must not, in the answering, create a whole new set of tragedies and a legacy of bitterness and regret. There is enough of that already bound up in this story. 

Judge Arthur Tompkins is a trustee and faculty member of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), and teaches Art Crime in War during ARCA’s annual Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Heritage Protection Studies program in Umbria, Italy. He can be contacted on arthur.tompkins@gmail.com.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013 - No comments

Gurlitt Art Collection OpEd: Too many questions about the recent news of 'Nazi era looted' paintings hoarded by Gurlitt

by Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

Sunday afternoon at about 1PM GMT the Museum Security Network received an announcement of a breaking story in Focus, a weekly news magazine published in Munich and distributed widely throughout Germany.   As the nation’s third-largest weekly news magazine, their stories tend to be fact-checked well though they don’t often have breaking news in this sector of the art world.  Scanning the announcement, I had to reread the notice twice before it sunk in.  It seemed like an unbelievable fairytale. 

Customs police had discovered a cache of approximately1,500 once-believed destroyed works of art by many of the masters of classical modernism.   Stuffed in an dark apartment in Schwabing, a borough eleven minutes north of Munich, the investigators found works believed to be attributed to Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Otto Dix, Albrecht Dürer, Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Franz Marc, Max Beckmann, Max Liebermann, and Oskar Kokoschka:  artworks that disappeared off the art world’s radar screen during and shortly after the Second World War. 

During the war, many of these works were declared entartete Kunst (degenerate art) a derogatory term adopted by the Nazi regime that was used to describe much of what was the party classified as “modern art” though this label alone is misleading. The name also became the moniker of a Nazi exhibition in 1937, which featured 114 modernist artists’ works curated to show the work as deviant and without social value.  Interestingly, the exhibition was held in the very city where the cache of missing paintings were to be uncovered.

The "Entartete Kunst" exhibit ran from July 19th through November 30 1937 and presented 650 works by artists deemed to be contaminated by Jewish thought or ideology even if few of the artists who contributed to the modernist movement were actually of Jewish descent.  Branded as an enemy of the state, German painter Max Beckmann, long considered to be one of the towering figures of 20th-century art, is said to have fled to Amsterdam on its opening day.

From Cubism to Dada to expressionism to surrealism, the modernist art aesthetic didn’t fit with the Third Reich’s anti-Semitism, nor with Adolf Hitler's belief that classical Greece and the Middle Ages were the true sources of Aryan art.  Labeled as un-German or Jewish Bolshevist, the regime considered works of art from these genres subversive.  To purge the world of the influence of degenerate artists more than 5,000 works were given this label and confiscated or purchased under duress through forced means during Hitler’s reign.  Many of these works of art have never been seen again. 

Which brings us back to the present and Sunday’s breaking news.  Just how did reclusive octogenarian Cornelius Gurlitt come by his hoarded mother-load of missing art, nestled secretively amidst his stash of past their date of freshness nibbles? Schwabing may be a Bohemian quarter of Munich, but surely 1,500 works of art being moved into a building would have attracted someone’s attention. 

Those interested in art crime and Holocaust-era art losses began searching for more information as soon as the story broke in Germany.  Within 48 hours all the news wires were abuzz. 

What we do know now is that Gurlitt was the sole surviving son of the German-Jewish art dealer and historian Hildebrandt Gurlitt who traded in 'degenerate art'.   Stopped on a train during a routine control, officers searched the younger Gurlitt and him found him to be carrying a suspicious envelope containing 9,000 Euros in large denomination bills, an amount just shy of the legal limit for monetary instruments when traveling between two countries of the European Union. 

Many individuals commenting on this breaking news seem surprised that the German authorities have the legal right to conduct these types of searches on common citizens. In reality, in the age of revolving credit and plastic money,  large sums of undeclared cash would alarm virtually all police and custom border authorities, not just those in within the European Union.  Amounts of currency entering or exiting a country are monitored as a means of investigating tax evasion, drug dealing, terrorist financing and other criminal activities.

In Gurlitt’s case, tax authorities were routinely checking passengers traveling between Germany and Switzerland in an effort to ferret out tax evaders, many of whom have long taken advantage of Switzerland’s tax haven and secretive banking rules. 

As Europeans have seen the rules governing tax treaties begin to change, tax evaders have begun carrying their legal tender back home, presumably to stuff in mattresses.  Some pass over the border with below the limit installments so as to arouse less suspicion, carrying monthly allowances in unassuming envelopes like the one carried by Cornelius Gurlitt. Others bring back larger sums, strapped to their bodies or tucked inside corsets. Last September another German citizen was arrested when it was found that he was carrying 140,000 euros stuffed inside his adult diaper.

But even with his relatively thin envelope, Cornelius set off alarm bells.  He acted nervous and gave authorities an Austrian passport in the name of Rolf Nikolaus Cornelius Gurlitt, born December 28, 1933, in Hamburg - currently residing in Salzburg.   Becoming suspicious, Germany’s tax authorities located his residence in Germany not Austria and subsequently issued a search warrant in the Spring of 2011 seeking entrance to his apartment in Schwabing in hopes of implicating him in tax fraud and embezzlement.  

What they found instead was 1,500 pieces of history, each of which asks as many questions as they answer.   Strangely though, in the two years that have passed since the raid occurred and the artworks was seized, no single list has been made public identifying which works of art were squirreled away in Gurlitt’s hoarder’s heaven.  Forbes magazine listed an abstract figure of $1 billion but until a list is obtained that itemizes the pieces seized, this figure should only be considered speculation.

Berlin Free University has confirmed that Meike Hoffmann of its degenerate art research unit is helping identify these art works but no information has been given as to how long the art historian has been working with authorities on the process or why, given the number of pieces involved, other researchers familiar with modernist painters have not been brought on board. 

What the motive was for father and son to secretly stash away so many remarkable treasures is something we may never fully grasp.  Hildebrandt Gurlitt died in 1956 leaving his son holding the bag and the younger Gurlitt himself is reported to have tersely asked the police why they couldn’t couldn't have waited until he was dead, stating "They would have got their hands on the art anyway."

I for one would like to ask Cornelius how possessing something in secret, like the best of art thief clichés, was more fulfilling for him than being remembered as having returned these works to their public and private owners and undoing the pain and damage caused by his father’s lies and deceit.  From 1956 to today, the thought never crossed his mind to turn these objects over for the greater good?  Surely he realized that his family owed it to the artists, if not to their relatives, to inform the world that these works of art had not been lost after all.

One can speculate that the elder Gurlitt lied about the paintings due to some misconstrued belief that the artworks might be confiscated by the invading Russians when they entered Dresden during the war.  He could likewise have continued to keep them hidden long after the war fearing they would have been shipped outside Germany to one of Russia’s great museums when Germany was still divided.  Similarly, after his father’s death and before the fall of the Berlin wall, Cornelius too may have elected to remain silent.  But why not in the years following Germany’s unification? Why did this man chose to continue to facilitate his family’s deception, living as a recluse off of the random pieces he sold? 

While these questions hold historic curiosity for me personally, I may never know the answers.  Gurlitt’s neighbors in the modest residential building where he lives have not seen the octogenarian for more than a year, though his name is still on the bell.

More important to the art world and hopefully more easily answered is understanding why the Munich tax authorities chose to keep this remarkable find confidential, limiting access to the case to only a chosen cadre. Angela Merkel, herself stated yesterday that "The government were informed about this case a few months ago".

Realizing that who potentially owns these pieces may be a very tangled legal ball of thread to unravel, I also wonder how Focus came to know of the seizure and why they chose to break the story now while the investigation is ongoing.  Do they know something we don't?

Augsburg public prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz has implied that the information was kept secret to facilitate the ongoing investigation.  In a press meeting earlier today he stated that "the prosecution has not gone public. To this day it is - as I said - counterproductive for us to go with the case to the public. We did not save the images. The pictures should not be hung in my office."

Siegfried Klöble, the government director of the Munich customs investigation also added that the investigators are working on the assumption that there may be another cache of paintings in an undiscovered location.

In the meanwhile, all the government’s secrecy and limited number of resources working on the investigation has angered many in art community, myself included.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013 - No comments

Gurlitt Art Collection: German magazines Focus and Der Spiegel Online report on the 'Nazi treasure' of 'masterpiece paintings' found two years ago

Cover of Focus
By Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

On Sunday, November 3, Museum Security Network, under the leadership of the new moderator Alice Farren-Bradley, sent out a Dutch article about a story from the German Focus reporting the discovering of a Nazi treasure of masterpiece paintings worth billions.

The Munich magazine, Focus -- founded in 1993, edited by Helmut Markwort, and a competitor of Der Spiegel -- published this article in its November issue (in German) alleging that two years ago Bavarian customs (Bayerische Zollfahnder) discovered 1,500 works by artists such as Picasso, Chagall and Matisse confiscated during the Third Reich were amongst the trash in the apartment of 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of art historian and dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt. According to Focus, Cornelius Gurlitt raised suspicion carrying a large amount of cash on him on a train between Switzerland and Munich in September 2010. The following spring, Focus writes, investigators searched Gurlitt's apartment in Munich and discovered prints, etchings, engravings and paintings between mountains of rotten food and decades old tin cans. Focus reported that Bavarian customs now have the paintings and that Berlin art historian Dr. Meike Hoffmann is trying to determine the origin and value of the paintings. According to Focus, after the raid in the Spring of 2011, Cornelius Gurlitt sold a painting by Max Beckmann for 864,000 Euros through the Lempertz auction house in Cologne. According to Focus, one of the paintings found was Henri Matisse's Portrait of a Woman from the collection of Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg, the grandfather of French journalist Anne Sinclair and American lawyer Marianne Rosenberg.

In The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994), Lynn H. Nicholas recounts that Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt, the director of the Zwichau Museum, 'was fired in 1930 for "pursuing an artistic policy affronting the healthy folk feeling of Germany" when he exhibited modern artists. In 1938, Nicholas reports, Hildebrand Gurlitt was one of four 'well-known dealers' appointed to sell art designated as 'garbage' as declared by Nazi Joseph Goebbels and targeted by the Commission for the Exploitation of Degenerate Art. Nicholas identifies Gurlitt as a major buyer at 'the phenomenal sale of the late dentist Georges Viau's Impressionist collection on December 11-14' [1942]. Gurlitt is now 'one of the buyers for Linz' (Hitler's proposed Third Reich museum):
who in addition to the Cézanne [Vallée de l'Arc et Mont Ste.-Victoire] bought three other million-plus pictures: a Corot Paysage composé, Effet gris; a proscribed Pissarro; and for FFr 1.32 million a small Daumier Portrait of a Friend. The truth of the matter was that in France these "degenerate" works were among the hottest items in an overheated market and were being traded and bought to a large degree by those who had condemned them. 
Alas for Gurlitt, both the Cézanne and the Daumier were fakes. The good dentist, it seems, loved to "finish" oil sketches by well-known artists, and copy other works outright. The little Daumier was a copy of the real picture, which had also belonged to Viau, but been sold elsewhere; the Cézanne pure invention. It is now in the study collection of the Musée d'Orsay.
Hildebrand Gurlitt, according to Nicholas, was a trusted agent for Hermann Voss, appointed in March 1943 to purchase art from French Jewish collections.

In a follow up article, Focus asks if there are any other treasures hidden in Munich and notes that empty picture frames in the apartment suggested that Gurlitt had sold paintings from the collection he had hidden in his apartment. And in another article today, Focus readers question the secrecy of the investigation into the found art.

In today's Der Spiegel International online, under the headline "Nazi Plunder: 1,500 Modern Artworks Found in Munich Flat", the Focus investigation is translated into English, adding that Hildebrand Gurlitt was 'hounded' after the Nazis seized power 'because he had Jewish roots':
But thanks to his excellent contacts in the art scene, he was tasked with selling art works to overseas buyers that had featured in the landmark "Entartete Kunst" exhibition of 1937. Organized by the Nazis, it presented 650 works of art deemed "degenerate" that had been confiscated from German museums and effectively stolen from Jewish families. 
After the war, he maintained that the work had all gone up in flames when his home was destroyed in the Dresden firebombing of February 13, 1945. He died in a traffic accident in 1956.
It has now become clear that his extraordinary collection was probably bequeathed to his son, who over the last few decades has allegedly sold an unspecified number of artworks in Germany and Switzerland.
Focus reports that after the raid on the Munich apartment, the collection has been stored under lock and key at the customs office in Garching. An art historian told SPIEGEL ONLINE that she was hired 18 months ago to provide an expert assessment. On Monday, Chancellor Angela Markel's spokesman Steffen Seibert confirmed that the German government had been informed of the matter several months ago, adding that public prosecutors in Augsburg had taken on the investigation. 
If the provenance of the art works cannot be established, Focus writes that they might still be returned to the suspect, because even the legal ownership of work known to have featured in the "Entartete Kunst" exhibition is unclear. For the time being, the man is only being investigated for tax evasion. 
But a statement once given by the art dealer's widow could prove crucial to the case. In the 1960s, she informed the authorities that all of her husband's treasures had been destroyed in the Allied firebombing of Dresden. She was specifically asked about the whereabouts of several paintings formerly owned by the Jewish collector Henri Henrichsen, including one work by Carl Spitzweg. Precisely this painting, and other documents related to it, popped up in the trash-filled Munich apartment. Given proof of a false statement, a legal case could now be used to forfeit the 80-year-old's ownership rights over the works. If the authorities succeed in doing that, the treasures would then be handed over to the state, or more specifically, to the Federal Minister of Finance.