Lost Nazi art: Unknown Chagall among paintings in Munich flat

The Telegraph 5 November 20123
By , Berlin

A treasure trove of art including previously unknown works by Marc Chagall and Otto Dix has come to light in a stash hidden for decades in a German flat.

Paintings dating as far back as the 16th century were found alongside 19th century art when officials searched the home of Cornelius Gurlitt in Schwabing, Munich, on 28th February 2012.

At least one of the recovered works came from the Kunsthalle Mannheim collection - currently housed in a museum of modern and contemporary art in the town of Mannheim.

Dr Meike Hoffmann, an art expert from Berlin’s Free University who has been charged with cataloguing the find, said the haul of some 1,400 paintings and drawings were occasionally dirty but otherwise in good condition.

They include a previously known self-portrait of Otto Dix dating back to around 1919 and an untitled allegorical scene by Marc Chagall, she told a press conference in Augsburg, Bavaria.

Dr Hoffmann said the previously unknown Chagall painting dating back to the mid-1920s was of "especially high art history value".

It was one of the 1,401 pictures - including 121 framed and 1,285 unframed - discovered at the apartment. Amongst them were oil paintings, drawings, lithographs and water colours. Works by Pablo Picasso and Albrecht Duerer also came to light.

A painting by the latter artist dating back to the 16th century was amongst the astonishing find, not all of which was art stolen by the Nazis.

Works by Renoir, Henri Toulouse Lautrec, Henri Matisse and Max Liebermann are also amongst the works discovered in the raid on Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment.

The pensioner first came under the suspicion of customs officials on 22nd September 2010 when he was seen traveling to from Munich to Zurich and back, with large amounts of cash, in a single day.

When they conducted further inquiries they discovered that he barely existed on official records: he paid no tax, held no social security records, and had never worked.

They then searched his flat and found the piles of paintings hidden behind cans of food in a squalid apartment.

Munich customs officials employed a specialist removals firm that spent three days painstakingly transporting the multi-million pound art collection out of Mr Gurlitt’s corner flat.

Senior public prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz said Mr Gurlitt's current location was unknown to the authorities.

Neighbours at Mr Gurlitt's apartment building have reportedly not seen the white-haired 80-year-old - who has an Austrian passport - since the summer.

Siegfried Kloeble, director of Munich Customs, said he did not believe that Mr Gurlitt had any further artwork hidden away elsewhere.

“We don’t think it is likely that there are more pictures stored somewhere,” he said at the press conference.

Munich Customs have come under fire for keeping the extraordinary art find under wraps for so long.

But Mr Kloeble said the sale of a Max Beckmann painting called Lion Tamer, Circus by Mr Gurlitt occurred before the raid on his apartment took place.

The Munich authorities have ruled out publishing the massive art collection in full on the internet.

Berlin art lawyer Prof Peter Raue criticised the decision not to put all the works of art on public display.

“Why won’t the pictures be published? It is a scandal,” he told German television news channel N24.
© website copyright Central Registry 2024