Monday, November 4, 2013
In the last couple of years, German authorities have started checking more frequently for tax evasion carried out by wealthy citizens, namely through deposits in Switzerland.
It was during one of those checks on a train from Switzerland in September 2010, that Cornelius Gurlitt, sole survival son of art dealer Hildebrandt Gurlitt, was caught with an envelope containing 9,000 Euros in cash. Cornelius had never worked and presented no other means of income.
Official authorities issued a search warrant for his near €700-a-month rented apartment in Munich suburb of Schwabing and in 2011 the over 1500 paintings and sketches estimated to be worth over 1 billion Euro were discovered.
Bizarre enough, the works of art were stashed behind piles of canned food and noodles that would reach the ceiling, much of it from the 1980's.
However, customs issued a ban on information about the raid and things were kept in secret from the public. But now the German magazine Focus has published an article about this surprising case and the story has been revealed to the public. A case worthy of a novel, such are the ingredients and the people directly and inderectly involved.
Among the paintings and sketches, are famous names such as Albrecht Dürer, Edvard Munch, Emil Nolde, Ernst LLudwig Kirchner, Franz Marc, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Max Beckmann, Max Liebermann, Oskar Kokoschka, Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee.
Hildebrandt Gurlitt had supposedly acquired those artworks in the 1930s and 40s from Jews who would dispose of their valuable works of art for a pittance in exchange for escaping from the Nazis. At a later date, Hildebrandt reported them all to be destroyed during the vast bombing of Dresden in February 1945.
His Jewish ascendancy and initial opposition to Nazism made him, in the perspective of the Allies, a victim not a persecutor and was never acused of taking advantage of Jews by acquiring and selling their collections for scanty amounts of money in exchange for their escape to safe countries. Hildebrandt carried on dealing in art until 1956 when he was killed in a car crash.
Included in the discovered paintings is a portrait of a woman by the French master Matisse that belonged to the Jewish French art dealer Paul Rosenberg, who had to leave behind his collection before his escape from Paris when the country fell in 1940. Rosenberg was renowned for representing Georges Braque, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Him and his brother Léonce Rosenberg were among the world's major dealers of Modern art.
Paul Rosenberg's granddaughter Anne Sinclair, the wife of former top banker Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been fighting for decades for the return of his artworks stolen by the Nazis, but according to Focus she 'knew nothing' of the existence of this painting.
Art historians in charge of examining the Cornelius Gurlitt collection claim that near 300 of those works were part of an Munich exhibition organized in 1937 by the Nazi called 'Degenerate Art' (Enkartete Kunst) - modern 'dissident' pieces to show German people what not to like.
Hitler, who himself had been a watercolourist, liked only romantic paintings that idolised his vision and art movements such as modernism and cubism had no place in the Third Reich. Together with his propaganda minister Josef Goebbels, Hitler confiscated near 20,000 such works before WW2.