German Government to Speed Up Research on Munich Cache

Bloomberg 11 November 2013
By Catherine Hickley and Patrick Donahue

Germany will boost efforts to examine the ownership history of art found in a Munich apartment and will publish details of works that may have been looted by the Nazis from Jewish collectors, the government said.

Authorities seized Cornelius Gurlitt’s cache of 1,406 artworks, including works by Max Beckmann, Pablo Picasso, Oskar Kokoschka and Max Liebermann as part of an investigation on suspicion of tax evasion in March 2012. Of those, 590 need to be examined as potential plunder from Jewish owners, the Culture Ministry said in a statement.

Jewish groups and representatives of heirs seeking lost art voiced outrage last week after the Augsburg prosecutor said publishing a list would be counterproductive. Of the handful of works presented at a news conference, at least three are claimed by the heirs of Jewish collectors.

“It is encouraging that the German government is beginning to accept the immense gravity of the situation,” Anne Webber, co-chair of the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe, said in an e-mail. “The only acceptable first step is immediate publication of a list of all the works of art in the hoard. There must be full disclosure now.”

Next Steps

The government will set up a task force of at least six provenance researchers led by Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, according to the joint statement from the Culture Ministry, Finance Ministry and the Bavarian government.

“The origin of the artworks found in Munich will be clarified with as much haste and transparency as possible,” the authorities said.

Works with provenance suggesting they may have been lost by Jewish owners due to Nazi persecution will be posted as they are uncovered on the database, the ministry said. As a first step, 25 paintings will be posted there today, it said.

“We have a great deal of understanding for the fact that representatives of Jewish organizations are asking lots of questions,” Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, said earlier at a government news conference. “They represent some very elderly people, who experienced, or whose forefathers experienced, terrible injustices.”

The researchers will also examine the provenance of about 380 works on suspicion they were probably seized by the Nazis from German museums as “degenerate art,” the ministries said.

Balancing Interests

Prosecutors projected a handful of the artworks in Gurlitt’s collection onto a screen at a press conference last week. The heirs of David Friedmann, a Jewish businessman who died in 1943, recognized “Riders on the Beach” by Max Liebermann as an artwork they have been seeking for years, and registered their claim with the prosecutor.

The heirs of Paul Rosenberg identified a Matisse painting they say belonged to the family and have requested its return. A third artwork, a drawing by Carl Spitzweg, may be a work sought by the heirs of Henri Hinrichsen, a Leipzig music publisher.

Jewish groups and heirs’ representatives have expressed frustration that provenance researcher Meike Hoffmann of Berlin’s Free University was the only art historian investigating the haul since it was seized 18 months ago.
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