Hunt for rightful owners as ‘degenerate’ art treasures hoarded by Nazi-era collector go on display in Germany

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 3:19am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 5:42am

Some 250 art works from a huge trove hoarded by a collector during the Nazi era went on display in Germany for the first time on Thursday, as its curators pursue efforts to find the rightful owners of pieces identified as looted.

German art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt built up the collection after being enlisted by the Nazis to sell modern art they had seized from German museums and collectors and labelled “degenerate”.

His son Cornelius inherited the collection, which includes works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse as well as older masterpieces, and kept it in his Munich flat for decades.

Gurlitt bequeathed the 1,500 works to Switzerland’s Kunstmuseum Bern, which inherited them after his death in May 2014.

The collection is now being displayed simultaneously in Bern and Bonn, with part of the latter exhibition focusing on works stolen from individual collectors.

The display at the German Federal Gallery includes works by Claude Monet, Max Beckmann, Albrecht Duerer and Pieter Bruegel, whose works are presented alongside biographies of people from whom the Nazis stole art.

At least two works on display have been confirmed as looted and attempts to identify their original owners are ongoing.

“In total, there are six which were clearly identified as looted art. Many works are still being investigated and they might also turn out to be looted,” Rein Wolfs, the exhibition curator, said.

Germany’s Culture Minister Monika Guetters said the government had allocated 6.5 million euros (US$7.6 million) to researching the original owners’ identities.