Showing posts with label Nazi-era looted art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nazi-era looted art. Show all posts

November 12, 2016

Art Restitution: Tate Completes Restitution Process of Looted Constable Painting

Constable's 'Beaching a Boat, Brighton' (1824) will be returned to
its heirs on the recommendation of the UK's Spoliation Advisory Panel
London’s Tate Museum has, at long last, restituted John Constable’s painting, Beaching a Boat, Brighton to its rightful owners. The Tate returned the painting to the heirs of Baron Ferenc Hatvany, a Hungarian Jewish painter and art collector, after it emerged that the work had been looted during the second World War.  The painting was once part of  Baron Hatvany’s larger collection, one of the finest, if not the largest (a distinction belonging to the Herzog’s) art collections in Budapest.  By the early 1940s, his collection comprised of some 750-900 works of art.  

Hatvany was forced to store this, and several other artworks, in a Budapest bank vault against the threat of possible Allied bombing, before ultimately being forced to flee the city when the Nazis arrived. The Russian Army then entered Budapest in 1945 and seized the Hatvany collection, leading to long-standing legal disputes over the property rights of many of the pieces of artwork it contained.

The heirs of Baron Hatvany filed a claim with Britain's eight-member Spoliation Advisory Panel — a panel created by the British government to mediate looting claims on art works in public institutions in 2013—after someone recognized the Constable painting as having been looted whilst visiting the Tate's London collection in 2012. 


In May 2014, at the urging of the SAP, the Tate formally authorized the painting's return to three of Hatvany’s heirs — descendants who live in Paris and Switzerland.  Then, alarmingly, the museum reversed course one week later after officials from the Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts produced an apparent 1946 export license for the painting.

SAP met again in September 2015 to reexamine the original facts in the case, along with the added Hungarian Museum documentation, and in a lengthy 81-page report again concluded that “No link has been established between Baron Hatvany and the two persons named as applying for the export license.” SAP then once again urged the return of the painting to the Baron’s heirs.

Agnes Peresztegi, a lawyer who works for the nonprofit Commission for Art Recovery and represents the three Hatvany heirs, has said that the case illustrated the need for museums to conduct better due diligence when checking the provenance of paintings. “Research,” she stated, must “conform to a higher standard and there is a need for more transparency.”

As is unfortunately often the case when World War II restitutions are eventually made, the Hatvany heirs have decided to put the Constable painting up for sale. The heirs of WWII looted art are often numerous or often, not necessarily wealthy.  Sometimes the only practical solution for dividing the value of inherited artworks is to witness its sale.

Baron Ferenc Hatvany’s Constable painting, Beaching a Boat, Brighton will go on the auction block at Christies in London on December 8th.  It is expected to sell for between GBS £500,000 and GBA £800,000.

By: Summer Clowers










At the urging of the SAP, the Tate formally authorized the painting's return to three heirs — descendants who live in Paris and Switzerland in May 2014.  Then alarmingly the museum reversed course one week later after officials from the Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts produced an apparent 1946 export license for the painting.

The Spoliation Advisory Panel met again in September 2015 and reexamined the facts in the case along with the added documentation and in a length 81 page report again concluded that “No link has been established between Baron Hatvany and the two persons named as applying for the export license.”

Agnes Peresztegi, a lawyer who works for the nonprofit Commission for Art Recovery, who represents the three Hatvany heirs since 2012 has said the case illustrated the need for museums to conduct better due diligence when checking the provenance of paintings. “Research,” she stated, must “conform to a higher standard and there is a need for more transparency.”

As is often the case, when World War II restitutions are eventually made, the Hatvany heirs have decided to put the Constable painting up for sale.  The painting will go on the auction block at Christies in London on December 8th and is expected to sell for between GBS £500,000 and GBA £800,000.

Because the heirs of the looted art are numerous or not necessarily wealthy, sometimes the only practical solution for dividing the value of inherited artwork is to witness its sale. 





February 3, 2015

Ghosts of the Past: Nazi-Looted Art and Its Legacies

An International Conference co-organized by Columbia University's Department of Art History and Archaeology & Deutsches Haus ​in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut New York and the Jewish Museum, New York.


Schedule:
February 19, 6:30 - 8:00 PM
Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street   
Keynote Lecture by Prof. Olaf Peters

February 20, 9:00 - 1:00 PM
Columbia University, 501 Schermerhorn Hall

February 21, 9:00 - 6:00 PM
Columbia University, Deutsches Haus, 420 West 116th Street

For details please see the event website here. 

November 24, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection & Provenance Research: A Perspective from Marc Masurovsky, director of the Provenance Training Research Program

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA blog Editor

I sought out the perspective of Marc Masurovsky, director of the Provenance Research Training Program which will have a new session in Rome next month, on the Kunstmuseum Bern announcement regarding acceptance of the Gurlitt art bequest and its willingness to conduct research to determine if some works had been stolen during the Nazi-era (commonly accepted as 1933-1945).

Q: Today and agreement was reached that the Kunstmuseum Bern would conduct provenance research on the Gurlitt collection before moving the artworks from Germany to Switzerland. What is the process as you understand and what do you anticipate as the strengths and weaknesses?
MM: I thought Germany would handle the provenance. That's how I interpret most press reports from this morning. 
If this is correct, the research is being conducted by individuals hired by the German government under the auspices of the Gurlitt Task Force. 
Frankly, no one is certain about how the research is being conducted. If it were left to us, you'd have to make three distinct piles: auction acquisitions in the Reich, works de-accessioned from German State museums, and works acquired in occupied territories. Those piles lead you to different archives.  The most complex are the French records for works acquired in German-occupied France.  The fundamental weakness behind this process is its opacity and the refusal of the Germans to expand the scope of the research and reach out to those who know a thing or two about these types of losses.  From what we hear, there are only a handful of individuals covering the French archives.
Last but not least, the most complex items to research are the works on paper and especially prints and lithographs.  Who knows where those came from?  To ascertain whether or not they were looted, one would have to go through all files representing losses suffered by victims in France.  The task is staggeringly tedious and complex.

Gurlitt Art Collection and the Kunstmuseum Bern: Acceptance of Bequest comes with agreement to conduct provenance research

The press conference in Berlin today generated a great deal of media interest as to if and how the Kunstmuseum in Bern would accept the bequest of Cornelius Gurlitt -- a long-hidden collection of artwork mired in accusations of Nazi-looting.  The collection consists of around 1,300 works of art on canvas and paper including paintings and sketches by Chagall, Picasso, and Claude Monet.  The bulk of the cache was discovered in Gurlitt’s Munich apartment following a routine tax investigation.

Image credit: Hannibal Hanschke
Christoph Schäublin, the director and president of the Kunstmuseum Bern's board of trustees, said that after extensive deliberation Germany, Bavaria and the Kunstmuseum Bern had reached a formal written agreement viewable in German here to formally accept the Gurlitt collection.  Schäublin emphasized that artworks directly looted from Jewish owners during the Nazi era would not enter into the collection of the Kunstmuseum Bern and would be returned to their rightful heirs.  Works suspected of having been stolen, with no claimants currently identified would remain in Germany for the immediate future to allow for further investigation by the special task already established, with an emphasis on determining the provenance of each of the pieces.  An update on the status of the task force's research is expected sometime in 2015.

Melissa Eddy reporting from Berlin for The New York Times writes in "Kunstmuseum Bern Obtains Trove from Gurlitt Collection" that Schäublin described that a 'privately funded team of experts [would] comb the history of each piece before it came into the museum's possession' .... and that a public list would be made available soon.

German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters stated that she believed that the signing of the accord by all parties represented "a milestone in coming to terms with our history" referring to Germany’s responsibilities for losses under the Nazi regime.

Cornelius Gurlitt's 86-year-old cousin Uta Werner, applied Friday to the Munich Probate Court for a certificate of inheritance in connection with her deceased cousin's estate. Speaking tothe press on Friday through legal counsel she indicated they would be contesting Gurlitt’s fitness of mind at the time he wrote the will naming the Bern museum as his sole heir meaning any resolution in this restitution case could prove lengthy. 

Gurlitt Art Collection: Kunstmuseum Bern accepts bequest from Cornelius Gurlitt

The Kunstmuseum Bern announced today in Berlin that it will accept the art collection from Cornelius Gurlitt. Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO, live tweeted (Ergo Sum @sauterne) during the conference: 
The Kunstmuseum Bern accepts the Gurlitt collection. This was decided by the Board of Trustees of the Art Museum.... Regarding the Gurlitt collection Schäublin says their own research centre at the Kunstmuseum Bern must be considered....  Schäublin on Gurlitt Collection: "On the threshold of the art museum is not stolen art".... Kunstmuseum pledges to fully investigate artwork restitution claims fully.... Central point of the agreement to accept Gurlitt's art collection.... Works of art looted or suspicious do not tread Swiss soil.... Berlin, Munich and Kunstmuseum Bern have signed an agreement on the management of Gurlitt's estate.... Schäublin agreement in accepting Gurlitt collection: Objects with suspicion of being Nazi-looted art will initially remain in Germany....  Bavarian Minister of Justice on the joint Gurlitt accord: "The agreement with the Kunstmuseum Bern is an important step in German history."...  Gurlitt case: The German Minister of Justice says Switzerland is the "right place" for the disputed collection....  Gurlitt press release concludes. Many questions being raised by attendees on state of task force investigation and limbo nazi loot objects.
Here are also two Swiss news outlets that covered the conference (held in German):

http://www.srf.ch/news/panorama/live-aus-berlin-kunstmuseum-bern-nimmt-gurlitt-erbe-an

http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/bern-museum-accepts-controversial-art-hoard/41129776

The artworks will remain in Germany while provenance experts study the collecting history of the paintings suspected to have been looted during the Nazi-era.

Here's the latest news from BBC on the Gurlitt art collection and the conference.

Here's a chronology from the German-English news source DW.

Here's a link to the Kunstmuseum's media release (in German).




Gurlitt Art Collection: An Interview with Art Recovery's Christopher Marinello on the eve of the Kunstmuseum's announcement on acceptance or rejection of the bequest by Cornelius Gurlitt

Christopher Marinello, founder of Art Recovery
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Sunday I spoke to Christopher Marinello -- who has presented on several occasions at ARCA's annual art crime conference -- and who is the founder of Art Recovery International.  I interviewed him on the eve of the anticipated decision of whether or not the Kunstmuseum in Bern will accept the art collection bequethed to them by Cornelius Gurlitt. The federal government of Germany, the Bavarian Ministry of Culture, and the Kunstmuseum are scheduled to hold a joint press conference on Monday, November 24, 2014 at 11:00 am CET in Berlin regarding the further handling of Cornelius Gurlitt estate.  Marinello represents the Rosenberg heirs seeking restitution of a Matisse painting from the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt, an action suspended when Gurlitt died and bequeathed the art in his possession to a Swiss museum.

Q: Monday morning the Kunstmuseum Bern will announce their decision to accept or reject the controversial Gurlitt collection. What do you think are some of the main issues they have had to consider and what will they try to address at the conference?

CM: I’m certain the Museum Board has considered the possible legal issues they may be facing as well as the cost involved in researching the group of paintings. Not to mention the publicity and potential reputational damage in being known as the Museum that houses the Gurlitt hoard.

Q: What is the position of your clients, the Rosenberg heirs, who have proved that Matisse was looted by the Nazis and yet are still waiting for the painting to be restituted?

CM: We are patiently waiting for the Museum to accept the Gurlitt bequest and honour their pledge to restitute any and all works deemed to have been looted by the Nazis.

Q: Could you speculate for a moment on why Cornelius Gurlitt picked the Bern museum? Did he have a relationship with them or was he just looking for an institution outside of Germany?

CM: There has been a lot of speculation on Gurlitt’s motives but it is clear, in my view, that he was looking to punish the German State for the treatment he received after his “collection” was seized.

Q: When Gurlitt was disposing of the art -- whom did he trust and do you anticipate further revelations about the collection?

CM: There will be a lot more revealed in the future on this topic. I don’t wish to comment further, if you don’t mind.

Q: What is the Gurlitt family's position regarding the collection -- is there a chance they can succeed in getting a part of the collection?

CM: The Gurlitt family has pledged privately to me, and publicly, to return the looted works to their rightful owners.

Q: How long of a process has this been for your clients and has it been caution that has slowed the restitution process?

CM: My clients have been waiting almost 75 years for the return of this picture and others. It has been over two years since this hoard was discovered by German authorities. I would say that this is a textbook example of how not to handle Nazi restitution cases. Caution or inane bureaucracy?

Q: Does the museum board have the authority to make binding restitution decisions once they take possession of the collection?

CM: Yes.

Q: What role do you anticipate that the Bavarian task force will have, if any, once the Gurlitt collection is accepted by the Bern museum?

CM: They may offer their assistance to the Kunstmuseum. We should hear more about this tomorrow.

Q: What kind of burden is placed on museums today in regard to Nazi-looted art in their collections?

CM: The Washington Principles and the ICOM code of ethics made it pretty clear what is expected of museums today. Review your collections. Conduct proper provenance research. Transparency has never been more important.

Q: What kind of assistance is available to museums regarding provenance research through organizations such as Art Recovery International or the Looted Art Commission?

CM: We offer our services at no cost to cultural institutions that are in need of assistance. Other organisations offer this type of service as well. Help is often available, all they need to do is ask.

Q: Is there a standard report accepted by ICOM to help clarify what is due diligence or satisfactory provenance on artworks in museums?

CM: There are standards set by ICOM and other organisations that museums can follow.

Q: As a lawyer and an art recovery specialist, what would you propose to expedite restitution?

CM: Generally speaking? The opening of archives, more transparency from museums in publishing their collections and their provenance, and more due diligence from every aspect of the art market. Genuine due diligence, not “optical” due diligence.

Q: What have been the lessons learned in the last year in regards to questions of Nazi-looted art in collections such as Gurlitt?

CM: 75 years later we are still facing the issue of Nazi looted art. Largely because the problem was never properly dealt with. Today, banking has become more regulated, the real estate industry is more transparent, yet the art world remains this one big secret. I have no doubt that there are more Cornelius Gurlitts out there. Public and Private collections must be more transparent and due diligence should be an absolute requirement as opposed to a 'best practice' suggestion for the well informed.

September 15, 2014

The European Shoah Legacy Institute and its Mission to Recover Looted Art

By Halyna Senyk, Executive Director

The Holocaust-Era Assets Conference of June 2009 in Prague and the resulting Terezin Declaration endorsed by forty-seven countries reaffirmed the crying need for addressing issues surround the restitution and compensation of looted art. Beginning in the 1930’s, the Nazi regime was responsible for the confiscation, theft, and sale of hundreds of thousands – and potentially millions - of objects of art and other items of cultural property from public and private collections throughout the occupied territories of Europe. The scale and scope of such systematic looting was unprecedented in history. Many of these items were either stolen or otherwise obtained through duress from the private collections of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. A significant number of important objects were also looted from public and private museum collections.

Some of the stolen works eventually entered the personal collections of high-ranking Nazi officials; many others were destined for Hitler’s unrealised Führermuseum complex in Linz; countless more were simply sold for hard currency to be used to support the Nazi war effort. Although Allied policy after the war called for the return of these stolen artworks, an untold number were not returned and instead remained in governments collections. Many were resold or otherwise dispersed; others still have never been found.

Legal claims by the heirs and descendants of Holocaust victims whose art and other cultural objects were looted by the Nazis, along with analogous claims by foreign ‘source’ countries for objects similarly misappropriated, have significantly contributed to the importance of provenance research as it relates to the due diligence and legality involved in acquiring artworks that are known or suspected of having originated out of Nazi Germany or occupied Europe. 

Provenance research has long been a pivotal facet of the private art market with auction houses, major galleries, and private collectors all recognising the need for accurate and reliable provenance on artworks and other cultural objects offered for sale. This is almost exclusively due to the fact that complete and precise provenance is necessary for establishing the authenticity of a piece available for sale, which in turn influences valuation for both vending and insurance purposes. Little regard or interest is paid to the question of whether the current possessor of a piece has the right to pass title in said piece to a third party purchaser. This small but potentially damaging oversight – given the international nature of the private art market – can result in significant financial, legal, and reputational damage to both the inculpable seller and the good faith purchaser. As a multi-billion dollar industry, the art market can no longer afford to neglect its onerous duty to be ethical, accountable, and transparent when it comes to analysing the full and complete provenance of individual objects offered for private sale.

The European Shoah LegacyInstitute (ESLI) strives to actualise the objectives of the Terezin Declaration through a variety of activities (including training workshops, international conferences, and research) relating to looted art, Judaica, and other cultural property illegally misappropriated during the Second World War. To ensure that appropriate international regard is paid to the importance of the ongoing development of provenance, ESLI has been engaged in the following activities:
·      Organizing training programs in Europe and the Americas that develop and refine critical research and analytical skills in the emerging discipline of provenance research (the documentation of the ownership history of an art object from creation to the present day);
·    Organizing national conferences in cooperation with relevant Ministries of Culture on restitution of cultural property and provenance research at the national level;
·    Facilitating the creation of an independent, international association of provenance researchers and allied professionals; and
·      Promoting provenance research as a mandatory component of collection management practices across all forty-seven Terezin Declaration countries.
The Provenance Research TrainingProgram (PRTP) – created by ESLI in 2011 with the support of the Jewish Claims Conference – aims to empower professionals working within provenance research and its related fields to connect and cooperate in the proliferation of relevant skills and knowledge; the development of professional standards and an industry code of conduct; and the furtherance of provenance as an independent, respected, and self-regulating professional industry. Each year the program offers several week-long workshops taught by internationally renowned specialists with expertise in provenance research and related fields, structured around the complementary themes of research, history, and ethics. In addition to facilitating research and providing access to a vast array of information, the program will promote the establishment of international networks of provenance researchers that will bring together experts in all relevant fields and countries.

Through post-workshop analysis and reviews, ESLI discovered that a regrettable lack of appropriate funding for provenance research across state museums, private galleries, and other institutions has resulted in significant difficulties for PRTP alumni in adequately applying their new skills productively and effectively.  For this reason, ESLI intends to address the European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education – along with relevant federal Ministries of Culture – to advocate for the increased availability of funding and the establishment of provenance research as a mandatory aspect of collection management practices at the national level. Furthermore, ESLI is planning to work with legislators to raise awareness about the importance of provenance and the necessity of supporting provenance research across both existing and potential future collections.

Through the PRTP, ESLI is hoping to address the concern that provenance research, as an emerging industry, is a highly unregulated and improvised field with minimal regulatory oversight and no established code of conduct or professional standards. Institutions working within this field operate independently and without inter-organisational coordination resulting in a significant duplication of work, whilst the lack of structured and established professional standards frequently results in the production of work to inconsistent levels of quality and detail. Such extensive incongruence amongst so many professionals within a single field severely hampers any real advancement towards the development of a unified community of experts and the establishment of a recognised and respected professional industry.

These projects are vital to facilitating the continued advancement of full and complete provenance research as an obligatory benchmark of professional progress for museums, auction houses, and private galleries. ESLI is an important facilitator of the establishment of an international, independent professional association capable of creating a framework for self-regulation that will enhance development in this field. As inaccurate provenance may potentially result in a transmutation of title, impartiality and independence are absolutely vital in securing confidence and respectability.

ESLI believes this will be achieved by providing professional staff from these institutions - through the Provenance Research Training Program - with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the importance and techniques of provenance research, whilst simultaneously encouraging the development of a professional body of provenance researchers by facilitating dialogue and networking amongst professionals working in this field.

Last but not least, ESLI has been monitoring adherence to the principles espoused in the Terezin Declaration by creating a database on relevant legislation and its implementation across all five fields covered by the Declaration in the forty-seven member countries. It is our intention to cooperate with analogous organizations similarly engaged in the collection and collation of pertinent data to ensure a constant stream of up-to-date information.

The European Shoah Legacy Institute believes in synergy, cooperation, mutual understanding, and consensus. Our organization was founded on the consensus of forty-seven governments and will continue cooperating with governments, as well as national and intergovernmental organizations on promoting provenance.

June 2, 2014

Marc Balcells reviews "Lost Lives, Lost Art" by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow in the Spring 2014 issue of ARCA's Journal of Art Crime

Marc Balcells reviews Lost Lives, Lost Art (Vendome 2010) by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime:
The phenomenon “Monuments Men” has passed, at least cinematographically: it looks like the dust raised by the ‘in favor’ and ‘against’ factions has settled. Yet the topic of WWII restitutions is far from being settled: the Gurlitt trove and the multiple apartments holding a cache of looted art, which unfolded at the same time as the “Monuments Men” momentum, really showed how open and unsolved this issue is. All these cases made me revisit some of the books that I own on the topic, and my attention wandered to Lost Lives, Lost Art by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow. 
This non-fiction book follows a coffee table format: bigger than a regular book, hardcover, glossy pages and profusely illustrated. The book’s main theme is to chronicle the lives of fifteen prominent Jewish art collectors and how their collections got dispersed during the ascent to power of the Nazi party, and during the war. However, the book does not stop here and depicts the fate of the works of art and the current owners of the pieces: as the reader can imagine, in most of the cases, the art never went back to their owners, and it the object of many legal cases. In that sense, the book has a similar vibe to Hector Feliciano’s The Lost Museum (1995), which one of its parts revolves around five particular cases (the Rothschild collection, the gallery of Paul Rosenberg, the Bernheim-Jeune collection, the David David-Weill collection and the Schloss collection).
You may finish reading this review in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing to it here or ordering it on Amazon.com.

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.


April 24, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection: Opinion: "What to do with the Munich Art Trove?"

by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The missteps by the German federal and state authorities continue, as they try but so far fail properly to deal with the many art works known variously as the Munich Art Trove, the Schwabing Art Trove, or the Gurlitt Art hoard (“Modern Art as Nazi Plunder”, The New York Times, April 14; “Gurlitt art confiscation ends”, The Art Newspaper, April 9, 2014). 

To recap: In March 2012 Bavarian tax authorities stumble on over 1400 works of art in a nondescript Munich flat, owned by Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a Nazi-era German art dealer. They sit on the news for a year and a half until, in November 2013, German media break the news to a stunned world and, increasingly, an angry and frustrated group of widely dispersed possible claimants. Initially, stonewalling and bluster and a dismissively bureaucratic attitude are on display, until the intervention of Federal authorities leads to the reluctant acknowledgement that this is not just another local tax evasion case. But the release of details of the art works continues to be frustratingly slow and incomplete.

Visits to other homes owned by Mr. Gurlitt reveal even more art works, some in deteriorated condition, amid both ongoing calls for much greater openness in deciding just what would happen to the art works, and questions about the legality of the seizure of the works by the Bavarian authorities. 

Eventually, a multinational Task Force to investigate the provenance of the art works is announced by the German Government. Potential problems with Nazi-era laws, still on the statute books in Germany, loom, as does the absence from Germany’s statute books of any law requiring the return of Nazi-era looted art.

Now comes further disquieting news: The German Government has announced a deal, apparently negotiated with Mr. Gurlitt’s legal guardian, his defense counsel and the Bavarian authorities, (but without it seems the involvement or indeed knowledge of any representatives of the dispossessed), “to allow provenance research on a voluntary basis once the works are released from police custody.” But the Task Force will be up against an arbitrary one year deadline, after which provenance research will continue, it seems, only at Mr. Gurlitt’s pleasure. One short year to investigate and decide what should happen to over 1500 individual art works, many of which had been acquired by a dubious art dealer in times of chaos and circumstances of disaster 70 years ago, that had been hidden for decades with no whisper of their continued existence, and the details (and even images) of which are, even today, still incomplete. One year? Really?

And, on the same day, comes word that an unidentified rival claim to Matisse’s “Woman Sitting in Armchair” has come forward, jeopardizing negotiations to return that one painting to the heirs of French art dealer Paul Rosenberg just as an agreement to return the painting seemed close. And that is only one painting, albeit one with an uncharacteristically clear and well-established provenance. If there are problems with the Matisse, in a relatively straightforward case, what is to be the fate of the very many others where the records are missing or incomplete or inconsistent, the evidence patchy or confused or inconclusive, and the path to a resolution likely to prove labyrinthine?

The German government needs to accept that this mess is not a German tangle to unravel. It is unavoidably an international one. The creation of the Task Force was a partial recognition of that, but the continuing and serial missteps and errors, and the persistent inability or reluctance to be completely open about what is happening on the part of both the Bavarian and German Federal authorities, and now the imposition of an arbitrary and unrealistic deadline, demonstrate that, for whatever reason, the complexity of the truly international nature of the multi-faceted challenges presented by these art works eludes them.

What should happen, and quickly, is the creation of an independent, well-resourced ad-hoc international tribunal to determine the fate of each and every one of the many art works recovered. The Tribunal itself should consist of international jurists and others with a range of art-crime related skills, assisted by a staff of independent provenance researchers, art and general historians, claimant advocates, and dispute resolution specialists.

Secondly, that tribunal should be given the job, by German legislation and international treaty working in tandem, of resolving the fate of each art work by employing first a range of dispute resolution processes. If those processes do not result in an agreed just and fair solution, then the Tribunal should have the jurisdiction to decide each case by giving due weight and recognition to the moral aspects of each case, in addition to relevant legal factors. 70 years on, much relevant evidence, even if it once existed, is gone. All contemporary witnesses to Hildebrand Gurlitt’s activities are dead. Many records and documents that might once have existed have been lost or mislaid or destroyed in the chaos of wartime and post-war Europe. In those circumstances, to compel sometimes inadequately resourced claimants onto a strictly legal battlefield, hedged about with evidential and procedural constraints within the artificially narrow construct of a sovereign state’s domestic legal system, and then to require them to fight a legal battle against that same sovereign state, will likely pile future injustice on the top of past wrongs.

The December 1998 Washington Principles, to which Germany is a signatory, demand identification of looted art, open and accessible records, the public dissemination of art proactively to seek out pre-War owners or heirs, and the deploying of resources and personnel. A “just and fair” solution must actively be sought. Germany has been, at best, a cautious adopter of these principles. Fifteen years on, these 1500 art works give Germany the opportunity to cut this Gordian knot. Such an approach is not unprecedented. The various threads already exist, in both the looted art arena and elsewhere. All that is required is the will and the leadership simply to do it. 

Judge Arthur Tompkins is a trial Judge from Wellington, New Zealand. He teaches Art in War each year as part of the Postgraduate Certificate in Art Crimes Studies offered by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (www.artcrimeresearch.org), in Umbria, Italy.

April 23, 2014

Republic of Austria vs. Altmann: Schoenberg to speak at Malibu City Hall Council Chambers on April 29

E. Randol Schoenberg will discuss "Republic of Austria vs. Altmann" at the Malibu City Hall Council Chambers on April 29 at a free lecture sponsored by the Malibu Cultural Arts Commission (see article by Sarah Schmerling in The Malibu Times). You may find more information at the Malibu City Calendar of events here.
E. Randol Schoenberg and his client, Maria Altmann, famously took on the Republic of Austria to recover paintings stolen from Altmann’s family under the Nazi regime during World War II. The case involved convincing the United States Supreme Court to that Altmann could sue Austria for the return of the paintings. The dispute was arbitrated in Austria and, in January 2006, that panel agreed that the paintings, valued at over $325 million, should be returned to the family.

February 4, 2014

Tuesday, February 04, 2014 - ,, No comments

San Francisco Chronicle's Sam Whiting on Polish artist Moshe Rynecki's art work and the great-granddaughter's search for her legacy

"Artworks lost in Nazi era at the heart of the hunt" by Sam Whiting for the San Francisco Chronicle covers the subject of Elizabeth Rynecki's search for Polish artist Moshe Rynecki's artwork:
When Holocaust survivor George Rynecki died in 1992, he left a war memoir in the trunk of his car, bequeathing the family legacy to his only grandchild, Elizabeth. "It was like, 'Whoosh,' " recalls Elizabeth Rynecki, who is still feeling the blowback of 700 paintings by her great-grandfather that went missing after the war. She set out to find them, a search that has now taken 22 years and may take 22 more. To continue reading this story, you will need to be a digital subscriber to SFChronicle.com.
 Here's an update on the search as published in the ARCA blog.

January 31, 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014 - , No comments

Institute Français London: "The Fate of Europe's Treasures After WW2 -- Perspectives from France, Germany, Italy, Austria and the UK" Feb. 7 through the 9

Italian journalist Fabio Isman, a specialist in covering antiquities and cultural heritage from Rome, joins other European speakers at the Institute Français in early February to discuss the repatriation of Nazi-looted art after World War II (here's a link to the program's website page):
This launch evening will shed light on looted art – in the context of the recent discovery of the Gurlitt hoard in Munich and the release of Monuments Men – broaching the personal story of art historian and WW2 heroine Rose Valland, and moving personal accounts, fantastic finds and hard-fought legal battles. The debate will be introduced by a rare screening of Anne Webber’s documentary Making a Killing, about the Gutmann family’s 50-year quest to recover their missing art collection. 
Debate with Emmanuelle Polack (Head of the Archives of the Musée des Monuments français), Fabio Isman (Italian journalist, Il Messaggero), Anne Webber (Founder and Co-Chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe), Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow (co-authors of Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft and the Quest for Justice).

November 16, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: Highlights on De Spiegel's "Phantom Collector"

De Spiegel: Max Liebermann, "Two Riders on the Beach"
As pointed out in a long article, "Phantom Collector: The Mystery of the Munich Nazi Art Trove", De Spiegel Online, English, November 11, 2013, by Spiegel Staff, in 1901 Max Liebermann, an Impressionist painter, created "Two Riders on the Beach" and exhibited it in Berlin and in the Hermes art salon in Frankfurt. Four years later, in 1905, Berlin gallerist Paul Cassirer sold the painting to a sugar refiner from Breslau, David Friedmann.
On Dec. 5, 1939, three months after the war broke out, Dr. Westram, a senior government official in Breslau, wrote a letter to the Reich minister of economics, under the heading: "Seizure of Jewish Art Collections." 
One passage relates to the "estimated value of artworks owned by Friedmann, a Jew." According to Westram, Friedmann's collection included French Impressionists "like Courbet, Pissarro, Raffaelli, Rousseau," along with "good German" landscapes. "The painting by Liebermann (Riders on the Beach) would likely fetch at least 10 to 15,000 Reichsmarks abroad," he wrote. He also noted that he had forbidden Friedmann from selling his artworks without permission. It is unlikely that he later sold the works despite Westram's instructions. 
De Spiegel: Sample of Gurlitt collection
'Forfeited to the Reich' 
When Friedmann died in 1942, his villa was sold at auction and the proceeds were "forfeited to the Reich." His daughter Charlotte was deported to an SS death camp in 1943 and murdered there.
De Spiegel's article recounts the family history of Hildebrand Gurlitt (part Jewish from an 'educated middle-class-family'); Hldebrand Gurlitt's dismissal twice from two positions by the Nazis; his success at dealing in art (1935); and the Nazi's characterization and assemblage of "Degenerate art".
On Oct. 25, 1938, Gurlitt gained access to the storage facility containing the "degenerate" art, which included works he had once acquired for the museum in Zwickau. They were kept at Schloss Schönhausen in Berlin. Gurlitt had customers in Basel and New York. He, like other dealers, also secretly sold graphic works in Germany. Hamburg art historian Maike Bruhns learned that Gurlitt showed drawings by Paul Klee and Emil Nolde to customers he trusted in the basement of his Kunstkabinett gallery. 
Art to the Highest Bidder
Gurlitt took on more than 3,700 works on paper from Schloss Schönhausen. In May 1939, he sold the Franz Marc painting "Animal Destinies" to the Kunstmuseum Basel for 6,000 Swiss francs, for which he received a commission of 1,000 francs. For the same amount of money, he bought 1,723 works on paper from Schloss Schönhausen in mid-December 1940. They included watercolors, prints and drawings by Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and other Expressionists. Gurlitt signed his letters to the officials in Joseph Goebbels' propaganda ministry with the words "Heil Hitler!" or "With German greetings."
A companion later recalled that Gurlitt drove a small car in those days, and that he would see "paintings by Munch, Corinth and Franz Marc emerging from the car like some colorful ball of yarn, and it was never quite clear how all of it could have fit into that tiny car."
Then came a defining moment in Gurlitt's career. His friend Hermann Voss, director of the Dresden State Art Collections and special commissioner for the planned "Führer Museum" in Linz, Austria, hired him in 1943 to build Hitler's art collection. Gurlitt brokered the purchase of paintings from various countries, including the occupied countries of Western Europe -- France, the Netherlands and Belgium -- for several million Reichsmarks. He was provided with privileges and given the necessary documents. A letter from the "Special Commissioner for Linz" certified that Gurlitt was buying works of art "for the purposes of the Führer," and that it was "of great interest in terms of cultural policy" that the art dealer be allowed to "complete his mission expeditiously." 
Hitler's Art Commissioner
Hitler's special commissioner for Linz had his office at the Dresden State Art Collections, where records were kept on the looted art. The purchases made for Linz between December 1942 and April 1945 are documented in the so-called "Wiedemann list." It includes the transactions conducted by Gurlitt's gallery.
Under the first entry, dated Sept. 6, 1943, Gurlitt delivered four paintings, including a work by Claude Joseph Vernet called "Seaport by Moonlight," for 40,000 Reichsmarks. One hundred thousand Reichsmarks were paid for the first delivery.
Gurlitt kept himself busy after that. Within a year, he delivered well over 100 paintings, rugs, drawings, miniatures, portraits, sculptures, tapestries and pastels to the special office. According to the list, the value of the artworks, which was already at rock bottom because of the pressure the Nazis were exerting on private collectors, was more than 9.2 million Reichsmarks, of which Gurlitt received a 5 percent commission.
The last Gurlitt painting arrived at the special office on Sept. 6, 1944. The work, "Madonna and Child Between Angels," by a member of the early Italian school, was priced at 200,000 Reichsmarks.

In an interview with Allied Forces in 1945, Gurlitt denied purchasing art stolen from Jewish families which De Spiegel questions:
Gurlitt toured the territories occupied by Nazi Germany like a kind of traveling salesman. In France he acquired 19th-century paintings for German cigarette manufacturer Philipp F. Reemtsma. He attended auctions that sold off looted art from museums and stolen art that authorities had seized from Jewish owners. Is it possible that he knew nothing of the origins of this artwork?
In regards to the bombing of Hildrebrand Gurlitt's home in Dresden in 1945:
In the spring of 1945, part of Gurlitt's collection was in Dresden; the family was living at Kaitzerstrasse 26 at the time. During the Allied air raids on the night of Feb. 13-14, the building was nearly completely destroyed, but Gurlitt was apparently able to save most of his art trove. In mid-March 1945, as he later wrote in a sworn statement, he was able to salvage the remainder of his "safeguarded paintings" and pack them in "roughly 25 crates," along with numerous boxes with hundreds of drawings and prints. 
He then transported the collection in a "truck with a trailer" to Aschbach in the southern German state of Bavaria, where he said he stored it in a castle that was soon captured by advancing US troops. "All crates and boxes," said Gurlitt, "were carefully checked by American commissions on a number of occasions." Many of the works were confiscated and brought to the central collecting point in Wiesbaden, he noted.
Gurlitt insisted to the Allies that he was not a Nazi, De Spiegel:
American officials were skeptical, and described Gurlitt as withdrawn and nervous. They thought his behavior was suspicious, and asked him why he had brought crates with the stamp of the Dresden state art collections to western Germany, along with alleged gold bars. He remained evasive.
At the same time, he agreed to give back a number of works in his possession that he had acquired in France. He also compiled a comprehensive list of the paintings that he had purchased in France during the war, which included Rodins, Chardins and Rembrandts.
Yet, De Spiegel writes:
The fact of the matter is that Hildebrand Gurlitt led two lives, as shown by many file documents. The Hamburg Police Department wrote in 1947 that Gurlitt allegedly "profited enormously" from the period of the Third Reich. "Aside from an exaggerated sense of business acumen, he reportedly took advantage of the predicament of the Jews and associated with men from the counterintelligence service." 
This was based on testimony by Gurlitt's former secretary Ingeborg Hertmann. She noticed that Gurlitt "maintained regular business and personal contacts with the Propaganda Ministry, Dr. (Rolf) Hetsch (the Propaganda Ministry's consultant for the visual arts), ... (Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert) Speer and (Propaganda Minister Joseph) Goebbels." 
In the years 1942 and 1943, she said that he "only worked for the Führer." She went on to say that at the Hamburg Kunsthalle -- an art museum in the city -- he purchased paintings by Liebermann "at cheap prices that were incomprehensible to me and sold them for astronomical amounts of money." The secretary added: "When the Jews were deported to the Lodz ghetto, they entrusted Gurlitt with all of their paintings to be sold. After a while, these people wrote letters, asking him to send money because they were starving. Gurlitt then told me in a calm and indifferent manner to send 10 Reichsmarks to the Jew."
Nevertheless, the Americans were generous. Gurlitt was allowed to keep the works of art that he had declared his private property at the collecting point of the US administration in Wiesbaden. In December 1950, the US high commissioner approved the return of 134 paintings and drawings from the "Gurlitt collection." In addition to the artwork, there were Nepalese antiquities and Meissen porcelain. For two additional works of art, the art dealer produced a certificate from a Swiss friend who attested that he gave Gurlitt a Picasso and a Chagall in Switzerland "around 1943." He subsequently received these works as well. A photo of the Chagall, an "allegory with three moons," was shown last week at a press conference. 
In Gurlitt's later years, before he died in a car crash in 1956, he served as the director of the Düsseldorf Kunstverein from 1948. He still had an enormous amount of energy, and he transformed this small art association into a captivating institution, which of course showed modern art. He also continued to deal in artwork. Indeed, it's likely that after 1945 Gurlitt added a number of works to the collection that was found at the home of his son Cornelius in Munich. 
The paintings returned by the Americans also included Max Lieberman's "Two Riders on the Beach," which had somehow made its way from David Friedmann's conservatory in Breslau to Gurlitt's crates of artwork in Dresden.

November 15, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: WSJ: 'Germany Plans to Publish List of Nazi-Looted Works in Art Trove'

Pierre Ciric, a lawyer in New York, just brought our attention to a story this afternoon in the Wall Street Journal: "BREAKING: GERMANY TO PUBLISH LIST OF 590 GURLITT ARTWORKS STARTING NEXT WEEK."

Mr. Ciric's law firm co-sponsored with Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) the October Art Law CLE symposium "Due Diligence in Cultural Heritage Litigation: Is There A Minimum Threshold?"

According to the WSJ article reported by Mary M. Lane in Berlin, a German task force -- a six-person committee of German and international experts to be created to research the provenance of all 1,400 works -- will begin by publishing the 590 Nazi-era suspected looted artworks on the German government's Lost Art Internet Database (www.lostart.de).

Gurlitt Art Collection: Who owns it and who wants it?

Why the interest in the Hildebrand-Cornelius Art Collection? FOCUS Magazine's article on "Nazi Treasure" did not identify the 1,400 artworks and their collecting history (provenance) in custody of by Bavarian customs officials in a tax evasion investigation. However, Hildebrand Gurlitt sold pictures for the Nazis out of Germany and France. One painting, Max Beckmann's "Lion Tamer", sold in October 1911 did belong to Alfred Flechtman and his heirs reached an agreement with Cornelius Gurlitt and the Kunsthaus Lempertz in Cologne before the painting sold to share the proceeds. So what other paintings belong to heirs of Jewish art dealers and collectors who had their property stolen between 1933 and 1945?

"Nazi Loot Heirs Look to Reclusive Hoarder to Recover Art", by Alex Webb and Catherine Hickley, November 13, 2013, News from Bloomberg/Bloomberg Businessweek.
"Collectors should be happy that Cornelius and his father preserved the paintings rather than let them be destroyed" by Germany's Nazi regime, said Ekkeheart (cousin), who describes Cornelius as "a real oddball" who restored paintings and has a passion for art.... Gurlitt could have legal claim to the art because of Germany's 30-year statue of limitations and a rule called "Ersitzung," under which the possessor of property gains title after 10 years unless he or she is deemed to have acted in bad faith. If Gurlitt refused to negotiate, heirs will have to fight for the art in court -- with little chance of success, according to Bischof & Paetown, a Berlin law firm that specialized in restitution cases.... The German government says 590 works in Gurlitt's cache may have come from Jewish owners. About 380 were identified as works the Nazis seized from German museums as "degenerate" -- their term for modernist art. The remaining 430 or so works, it said in a Nov. 11 press release, "clearly have no connection with 'degenerate art' or Nazi loot."
[According to sources, Cornelius' brother-in-law in Stuttgart, Nikolaus Fraessle, delivered 22 artworks to police to protect the art.]
After Hildebrand's Dresden home was destroyed by the February 1945 Allied firebombing that leveled much of the city, he and his family -- including the then-12-year-old Cornelius -- fled for the village of Aschbach in Bavaria. It was there that U.S. forces found him, sheltering in the castle of a Baron Poellnitz with crates of art including works by Picasso, Edgar Degas and Dix. Hildebrand Gurlitt died in 1956 in a car crash.

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.

November 5, 2013

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.