Germany may lift statute of limitations on Nazi-looted art

The Art Newspaper 14 February 2014
By Hannah McGivern

After a second cache of art is found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s home in Salzburg, officials make plans to aid restitution to heirs of original Jewish owners

Germany announced today it is considering a law that would allow Jewish families to recover works of art taken by the Nazis during the Second World War. The decision comes just days after a cache of more than 60 additional works surfaced at the Salzburg residence of Cornelius Gurlitt and the country’s culture minister announced plans for an independent centre to research and restitute Nazi-looted art. Germany’s current system for dealing with art amassed and redistributed under Hitler’s orders has been the object of international attention since it was revealed last November that around 1,400 pieces were found in Gurlitt’s Munich apartment in 2012, including almost 600 works suspected to have been stolen by the Nazis.

According to the current civil code, a claim cannot be made on property seized more than 30 years ago, which ended in 1975 for the heirs of Jewish owners whose art was confiscated during the Second World War. But Bavaria’s justice minister Winfried Bausback has submitted a bill to the German Parliament that would lift this ban, and supporters hope the international attention to the Gurlitt case will help the law pass.

The full extent of Gurlitt’s cache is still coming to light, as new works were found in his Salzburg home this week. Gurlitt's spokesman, Stephan Holzinger said that the works—including paintings by Monet, Manet and Renoir and a drawing by Picasso—had been removed by the authorities for inspection to determine if any were stolen during the Second World War. Based on preliminary research, “such a suspicion has not been substantiated,” he said.

The Gurlitt case has made restitution a priority for the German government. Ahead of the Salzburg discovery, Monika Grütters, the culture minister, launched discussions with officials from Germany’s 16 federal states to establish a centralised, independent body that will investigate provenance and restitution issues across museum collections. She told the Wall Street Journal that the centre could start operating in the autumn.
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