Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Son of Nazi art plunderer dies without returning any paintings
Cornelius Gurlitt, 81, died Tuesday, apparently of complications from heart surgery.
He was believed to have received the paintings from his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, who survived the war after a close collaboration with top Nazis, including Joseph Goebbels, the New York Times reported.
The Times said he had about 1,280 paintings from Chagall, Picasso, Matisse, Otto Dix and Max Beckman.
As is explained in the book and movie “The Monuments Men,” and in writing by French art heroine Rose Valland, Hitler and other top Nazis disdained modern art, considering it degenerate.
That made it possible for the senior Gurlitt to obtain them when they were taken from private owners and museums.
The younger Gurlitt lived a very private life and did not publicly show the paintings. However, after sale of a Beckman named the “Lion Tamer” for $1.17 million, Jewish holocaust and art investigators began focusing on him.
When the public learned of the presence of the paintings in a publication by the German newsweekly “Focus” the art world was outraged.
It was unclear what would happen with the paintings because Gurlitt left no will, according to his lawyer.
Deutsche Welle said Gurlitt and German authorities agreed to determine the provenance of all the paintings he held. Prosecutors seized all of them.
Any that were not lawfully obtained would be returned to their owners, if possible, under the agreement.
"He is committed to the voluntary return of any looted art," German Culture Minister Monika Grütters told station 3sat.
After his cache was revealed, Gurlitt had a website created to defend himself. He said he wanted “to preserve and maintain his father’s collection” while remaining “open to historic responsibility.”
The German parliament has been considering a proposal to extend the statute of limitations on theft. The new law would remove the time limit on prosecutions for thefts during the Nazi era of art.
Some of the works in question can be seen on the government website www.lostart.de.
New York Times
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Robert Weller is based in