An investigation into the origin and ownership of 1,500 artworks found in the filthy flat of a German recluse whose father bought Nazi-looted paintings has finally concluded, leaving more questions than answers.
Tax inspectors stumbled upon the haul in 2012 when executing a warrant to search the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, then 80, whom they suspected of tax evasion.
What they found has been described as the art world’s most spectacular post-war find, with masterpieces by Monet, Picasso, Max Liebermann, Beckmann and Matisse stacked up amid squalid conditions. More were found in Gurlitt’s Salzburg flat.
Gurlitt, who was once found carrying £8,000 in cash across the Swiss border, had no job and survived by occasionally selling one of the artworks.
Gurlitt, the son of Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, whom Adolf Hitler tasked with purchasing art for the Nazis’ planned museum, died in 2014, triggering extensive research into the art’s provenance.
A task force set up in 2016 has now finally reported its findings, in which it reports that only 14 works by artists such as Liebermann, Matisse, Thomas Couture or Adolph von Menzel have so far been identified as looted. Of these, 13 could be returned to the heirs of their rightful owners.
However, while Gurlitt’s legitimate ownership of around 300 artworks could clearly be proven, the provenance of around 1,000 works remain unclear.
“We did everything we could. Many questions remain unanswered since there are not many sources of information left, nearly a century later,” said Gilbert Lupfer, the German Lost Art Foundation’s director.
The trove now belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts Bern, to which Cornelius had bequeathed his collection.