Since the beginning of the week the case Gurlitt is all over. Several newspaper reported that in 2012 a customs check on a train from Switzerland to Munich found a 80-years-old man carrying EUR 9000 cash even though he could not proof any form of income. When his apartment in Munich was being raided, authorities found 1500 artworks. This billion-trove became public only these days. The man is Cornelius Gurlitt, son of well-known art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt who had bought these artworks in the 1930s and 40s.
According to “Focus”, Hildebrand Gurlitt was not estimated by the Nazis due to his Jewish roots. Moreover, he stood up for modern art. Thanks to his contacts to artists he could stay in the Third Reich. As art dealer minister for propaganda Joseph Goebbels commissioned him to resell artworks that were looted by the Nazis as being “degenerate” art. Jewish collectors sold their artworks at ridiculously low prices to pay fee to escape from the Third Reich. That way Gurlitt was able to buy many hundreds of paintings at a low price. After the Second World War he re-establish as an art dealer because the allies classified him as a haunted. Gurlitt’s son Cornelius hoarded this art treasure for the last 50 years in his squalid flat. Media report that he was not registered in Germany and had no pension, he lived by selling some artworks when he needed money.
The investigation has shown that at least 300 of the artworks are so called “degenerate” art. Others are stolen art. The works were thought to be lost or destroyed. Hildebrand Gurlitt had declared that the firebombing of Dresden in February 1945 had burnt up his collection.
Among the artworks, which were found at Cornelius Gurlitt’s, are works of Beckmann, Chagall, Dix, Klee, Kokoschka, Liebermann, Kirchner, Marc, Matisse, Nolde and Picasso. Some of which where to the day unknown.
The art historian Meike Hoffmann was authorised to identify the artworks. Even though she begun one-and-a-half years ago, she says she is still at the beginning of her work.
The supposedly most interesting question, however, is, what now happens with the artworks: are they going to be restituted, will they be returned? Or are they going to museums? Or is Gurlitt going to keep them? From a legal point of view, restitution cannot be requested seeing that the allies have not annulled the Law Of Divestment of 1938. Germany is a signatory to the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, which calls for as much transparency as possible in identifying and locating Nazi-seized art.
In Switzerland too, artworks of Gurlitt’s collection have been bought. As the Tagesanzeiger discovers the auction house Kornfeld in Bern had professional and personal contact with Gurlitt. The auction house, however, states that this was over 20 years ago.
If you suppose you are in possession of stolen art or an artwork of Gurlitt’s collection, we invite you to get in touch with us to discuss legal action that should be taken. We are not only specialised in art law but also in criminal law. The Swiss attorney at law Dominique Calcò Labbruzzo has studied in Berlin, Germany, and is admitted to the Swiss Bar. Now she practises in internal Switzerland, especially in Zurich and Lugano. Contact us now: write an e-mail to email@example.com or call 00 41 44 520 82 91.