Included in the cache are works by such artists as Pablo Picasso, Max Beckmann, MarcChagall, Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Paul Klee and Henri Matisse. It is believed that they were confiscated or stolen by the Nazis from Jewish owners. The Nazis regarded Impressionist, Cubist and Modernist pieces as ‘degenerate art'.
The magazine ‘Focus’ reported that official searches had been underway for at least 200 of the works. An art historian is now tracing provenance and estimating values.
Reportedly, an art dealer snapped up the works in the 1930s and 1940s. Cornelius Gurlitt's father HildebrandtGurlitt had in the run-up to World War II been in charge of gathering up 'degenerate art' for the Nazis. For 50 years, Cornelius apparently hoarded the works in a dark storeroom in his home in Munich, on homemade shelves. They were found by customs officials alongside rotting food and trash. According to ‘Focus’, investigators made the discovery already in 2011, but the authorities kept silent while searching for more information.
“Now we need to quickly find out whether there are legitimate owners or heirs. Belated justice is better than none,” Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, told the newspaper ‘Bild’.
The works have not been publicly identified by investigators, who are working to reunite them with the families of their rightful owners. However, one painting is known to have been 'The Lion Tamer' (pictured left), by German artist Max Beckmann. Cornelius sold it through an auction house for nearly US$ 1 million shortly before the collection was seized. Another is a portrait of a woman by the French master Matisse that belonged to the Jewish connoisseur Paul Rosenberg.
Rosenberg had to abandon his collection as he fled Paris when France fell to the Nazis in 1940. His granddaughter Anne Sinclair, ex-wife of former IMF bank chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been fighting for decades for the return of her grandfather’s pictures, but is said to have not known of the existence of this painting.