Cornelius Gurlitt, German at Center of Looted-Art Case, Sets Up Website

New York Times 17 February 2014
By Melissa Eddy

BERLIN –Cornelius Gurlitt, the 81-year-old German who inherited a collection of drawings, prints and paintings from his father, an art dealer who worked for the Nazis, has set up a website to provide his side of the story.

Mr. Gurlitt said in a statement published on on Monday that he would like to set the record straight about himself and his pictures.

“Some of what has been reported about my collection and myself is not correct or not quite correct,” Mr. Gurlitt wrote in German in a signed letter published on the site. “Consequently my lawyers, my legal caretaker and I want to make available information to objectify the discussion about my collection and my person.”

The site, parts of which have been translated into English, seeks to present Mr. Gurlitt’s side of the legal dispute over the fate of the hundreds of pictures that were removed from his apartment in 2012 by German prosecutors. News of the trove was kept secret until late last year when the German magazine Focus broke the story. The revelation sparked a debate over looted art and restitution that has yet to abate.

Stephan Holzinger, Mr. Gurlitt’s spokesman, said the website was set up by himself and his client’s lawyers as a way to provide regular, up-to-date information from and about their client and his position. “With this informational site, we want to make clear that we are willing to engage in dialogue with the public and any potential claimants,” Mr. Holzinger said in a statement.

Under the title, “Facts and Arguments,” the website offers details about the collection, including its structure, the legal background and a chronology of events. It also includes an online form through which potential claimants can contact one of Mr. Gurlitt’s lawyers, and links to organizations dealing with looted art.

“There are no legal grounds that would compel Cornelius Gurlitt to return the so-called looted art,” reads a portion posted on the site in English under the title “Cornelius Gurlitt’s Position.”

It goes on to say that in 1968, Mr. Gurlitt legally inherited the works, and that they were acquired by his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, in good faith. Mr. Gurlitt and his legal team cite the expiry of the right to seek the return of looted art under Germany’s civil code which requires claims to be filed within 30 years of the theft of property. For items looted by the Nazis, the statute of limitations expired in 1975.

According to the statement, claims from previous owners have so far been filed for only 3 percent of the 1,280 artworks that were among the 1,400 objects confiscated from Mr. Gulitt’s apartment. The other objects have been cleared of suspicion of having been looted and returned to their owner.

Mr. Gurlitt has avoided the public eye since November, giving only one interview to the magazine Der Spiegel. Christoph Edel, a Munich-based lawyer, was appointed in December by the German government to help Mr. Gurlitt deal with the complex issues surrounding his case. He has since engaged a team of lawyers to represent him.

Nevertheless, the authorities’ mishandling of the Munich trove has led to complaints from Jewish organizations and several of Germany’s allies, including Israel and the United States, over how Germany deals with provenance issues. In response, the new German culture minister, Monika Grütters, has proposed creating an independent center for handling such matters. Last week, a bill was also proposed to lift the statute of limitations on looted art. It requires approval from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and both houses of Parliament.®ion=Body&_r=0
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