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A cache of pre-war European art
confiscated by the Nazis during World War II was discovered in 2011 by German authorities in the apartment of an 80-year-old Munich man, Cornelius Gurlitt.
According to the Wall Street Journal
, the 1,400 artworks are worth about $1.35 billion and include pieces by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.
Gurlitt’s father, Hildrebran Gurlitt, was a museum curator who eventually became an art dealer. Joseph Goebbels’ Nazi propaganda ministry commissioned him during the 1930s and 1940s to rid German museums and galleries of what the regime considered “degenerate” art. Gurlitt was given permission to sell some of the degenerate pieces overseas to raise money for the regime. During a bomb attack on Dresden during the war, his house was destroyed and his personal art collection was assumed to be as well.
In 2010, German customs officials searched Cornelius Gurlitt’s belongings in a routine check on a train from Switzerland to Munich. The officials found €9,000 (about $12,000) cash in his possession and decided to launch an investigation. Upon a search of Gurlitt’s apartment in the spring of 2011, the artworks were uncovered.
"Regarding these artworks with an ideal value so high that it cannot be estimated, there are concrete indications that this is so called 'degenerate art' or stolen art,” Augsburg state prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz said in a news conference
Art historians believe these works may be one of the most significant collections of prewar European art in the world, but the lack of accompanying documentation means that finding the legitimate owners could take years.
Authorities have come under fire for staying silent on the artworks for such a long time, especially because of their historical importance, but Gurlitt is currently still under investigation for tax evasion.
A source said that because of Germany’s privacy laws, the entire probe had to remain a secret, which is why the discovery was guarded for two years. Gurlitt could not be reached for comment.