May 08, 2014

    Hoarder of Nazi-era art trove dies, aged 81


    THE reclusive German son of a Nazi-era art dealer who hoarded hundreds of priceless paintings in his Munich flat for decades - including works plundered from Jews - died on Tuesday, aged 81.

    Cornelius Gurlitt died "in his apartment in Schwabing, in the presence of a doctor", his spokesman, Stephan Holzinger, said in a statement, referring to an upscale district of Munich.

    Mr Holzinger said Mr Gurlitt had recently undergone heart surgery and, after spending a week in hospital, asked to return to his home, where he had lived among long-lost masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse and Chagall until the collection came to the attention of the authorities two years ago.

    Mr Gurlitt last month struck an accord with the German government to help track down the rightful owners of pieces in his trove of 1,280 works of art, including Jews whose property was stolen or extorted under the Third Reich.

    The works, whose value has been estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars, were seized in February 2012 when they were discovered by chance in the course of a small-scale tax evasion investigation.

    More than 200 paintings, sketches and sculptures discovered in a separate home of Mr Gurlitt's in Salzburg, Austria - including works by Monet, Manet, Cezanne and Gauguin - are not covered by the German agreement and it was not immediately clear who would now claim them.

    Mr Gurlitt's father, Hildebrand, acquired most of the paintings in the 1930s and 1940s, when he worked as an art dealer tasked by the Nazis with selling works taken from Jewish families, and avant-garde art seized from German museums that the Hitler regime deemed "degenerate".

    Under last month's accord, a government-appointed international task force of art experts will have one year to investigate the provenance of all the works in Mr Gurlitt's Munich collection. Works of art subject to ownership claims after that deadline will be held by a trust until the cases are resolved.

    Mr Holzinger said it was unclear if Mr Gurlitt had left a valid will, but a spokesman for the Bavarian justice ministry said the accord would also apply to any heirs.