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Germany Rules Matisse Belongs to Jewish Heirs

The 1921 work, ‘Woman Sitting in an Armchair,’ was found in Munich in 2011

Isabel Fattal
June 11, 2014
(Photograph of the painting "Sitting Woman," by Henri Matisse)
(Photograph of the painting "Sitting Woman," by Henri Matisse)

The German task force investigating the trove of Nazi-looted art discovered in the Munich apartment of the late recluse Cornelius Gurlitt announced today that one of the paintings found, Matisse’s 1921 “Woman Sitting in an Armchair,” was stolen by the Nazis and rightfully belongs to the heirs of Paris art dealer Paul Rosenberg, the Associated Press reports.

The piece was one of more than a thousand works found in Gurlitt’s apartment, which were discovered by German authorities in 2011 and made public in 2013. Gurlitt inherited these pieces from his father Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who was was reportedly ordered by Hitler to acquire and sell the art to help finance Nazi activities. Gurlitt had initially claimed that all of the art belonged to him; however, a month before his death in May at the age of 81, he agreed to a deal with the German government under which the works would be investigated to determine their ownership.

Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, the head of the task force, stated that the “final decision” of whether to return the piece “lies exclusively in the hands of the heir or legal successor of Cornelius Gurlitt,” the AP reports. Berggreen-Merkel also stated that Gurlitt had agreed to abide by international agreements to return looted art before his death, and that in her opinion “this obligation also binds his heirs.”

The Rosenberg family, however, had not been informed of the task force’s finding before today’s announcement. Chris Marinello, the lawyer representing the family, expressed disappointment in the lack of communication; he told the AP that this recent update “continues the vein of disregard for due process and compassion that we have seen since the discovery of the Gurlitt hoard.”

Isabel Fattal, a former intern at Tablet Magazine, attends Wesleyan University.