Chagall found in Munich stash believed looted from Latvian Jews

JTA 27 December 2013

BERLIN (JTA)—A painting by Marc Chagall discovered in a sensational art trove found in Munich is believed to have been looted by the Nazis from a Latvian Jewish family.

According to the German newspaper Bild, evidence was uncovered that the painting from the collection hidden for decades by the reclusive Cornelius Gurlitt, 80, may have been looted during the Nazi invasion of the former Soviet Union in 1941. Experts told Bild that the painting, “Allegorical Scene,” is now worth nearly $1.5 million.

The painting was claimed in the 1950s by Savely Blumstein, who fled Nazi-occupied Latvia to the United States, Bild reported. Blumstein also claimed furnishings and other belongings and received a payment of approximately $49,000 from Germany in 1981. He died in 2009, but the newspaper located two sons who said they were pleased to hear the painting had been found.

More than 1,400 works were confiscated from Gurlitt nearly two years ago in the course of an investigation for tax evasion. The works had been procured by his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, a collector and dealer commissioned by the Nazis to buy art for its museums, as well as art that it considered “degenerate,” that could be sold, with profits going to the Nazi government.

The state prosecutor in Augsburg agreed last month to provide a list of at least 590 works of questionable provenance, along with photos, for publication on the website of Germany’s provenance-research authority. Some 354 objects have been published on the site as of last Tuesday.

The Augsburg authorities have not commented on the latest revelations but did note that they had received more than 100 inquiries about artwork in Gurlitt’s possession from possible claimants. Queries also have come in to private organizations that do provenance research.

Advocates for survivors and heirs have been pressing for greater transparency regarding the Gurlitt collection.

Meanwhile, authorities are facing a dilemma that many of the works may legally belong to Gurlitt, making it more problematic to put the entire collection online. Germany has established a six-person task force to investigate the provenance of all works in question.

At least 300 paintings are to be returned to Gurlitt, particularly works by a relative.
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