The authorities in Germany are considering amending laws to allow victims of art looted by the Nazis to reclaim their property. Currently there are statute of limitations of 30 years and red tape blocking the rightful owners of art and antiques from successfully making claims of ownership. The bill, proposed by the southern state of Bavaria, would strike down these laws.
The move comes after thousands of artworks were discovered in the homes of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of an art dealer hired by the Nazis to disperse art deemed degenerate by the Third Reich. The works were found In Munich, Bavaria, and in Salzburg, Austria where he had a summer home. Over 1,800 lost artworks including canvases by Picasso, Renoir, Chagall, Matisse, Cezanne, and Degas were discovered in his flat in 2012, but it took another two years for the horde to come to light after the German government hid the find. It was later uncovered by the German press.
Last week over 60 more masterpieces by artists including Monet and Renoir were found in Gurlitt's home in Salzburg, Austria, with experts declaring the collection "even more important" than the one found earlier. "The Gurlitt case revealed a flaw in German law that damages the reputation of Germany," said Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback, adding that "we must do something" to overcome the hurdles faced by many Jewish families seeking to reclaim artwork, furniture and other valuables. The new law, dubbed the "Lex Gurlitt", was presented yesterday in Germany's upper house of parliament, and would have to be also passed in the lower house before becoming law. Under current legislation, stolen art must be reclaimed within 30 years, meaning the window for reclaiming art stolen during the second world war closed in 1975. In order to reclaim an artwork, a complainant must prove "malicious intent" by the current owner of the work, which could mean a failure properly to research its provenance, and identify it as stolen.