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Germany Reaches Deal on Nazi-Looted Art Trove

Experts to determine original owners of Chagall and Picasso masterpieces

Hannah Dreyfus
April 08, 2014
(Photograph of the painting "Sitting Woman," by Henri Matisse)
(Photograph of the painting "Sitting Woman," by Henri Matisse)

The German government has announced a new agreement with Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father amassed more than $1 billion worth of Nazi-looted art during World War Two, that will begin the process of returning the collection to the heirs of the original owners. The so-called Munich Art Trove, the New York Times reports, includes pieces by Picasso, Chagall, and Gauguin, and was discovered in Gurlitt’s Munich apartment during an unrelated investigation.

Gurlitt’s lawyers worked with the German government on how to handle the collection, which is currently being held by Bavarian authorities as part of the criminal investigation. A government-appointed team of international experts will have one year to investigate the works and determine the legal ownership of each piece. Authorities say Mr. Gurlitt can prove legal ownership of some of the works.

The new agreement bypasses the 30-year statute of limitations that typically applies to stolen property in Germany, which shows the German government’s willingness to make exceptions in the case of Nazi-looted art. The widespread criticism and outrage over the Munich Art Trove’s discovery also expedited the unconventional agreement.

In Gurlitt’s only interview, he told Der Spiegel that he was not willing to give any of the artwork up. However, since the 72-year-old’s health has begun to fail, he has appeared more willing to negotiate.

Stephan Holzinger, Mr. Gurlitt’s appointed spokesman, commented on the recently arrived-upon agreement. “We are dealing with a top-class team of experts, and given Mr. Gurlitt’s advanced age and frail health, it can be expected that they should be able to complete their work within this time frame,” Mr. Holzinger said.

Hannah Dreyfus is an editorial intern at Tablet.