Gurlitt Can’t Get His Story Straight About Salzburg Trove

Art Law Report 27 March 2014
By Nicholas O'Donnell

As confusion swirls around Cornelius Gurlitt’s actual plans, one of the issues is that his team is not speaking consistently with one voice.  In particular, there are odd developments about the artworks that Gurlitt himself had removed from his Salzburg home in February—oddities that are worth weighing when considering the recent public statements about his supposed willingness to return some of the art.  The fact that Gurlitt’s team itself has undergone a shakeup is also worthy of note. 

As the BBC—whose source was Gurlitt’s lawyer Hannes Hartung—reported in February (emphasis mine):

Works by Renoir, Monet and other French impressionists are among the 60 or so pieces, Hannes Hartung told BBC News.

Little else was known about them, and experts, of course, had and have no idea whether that art was stolen in any part, because authorities have never seen it.  In any event, Gurlitt’s February 11, 2014 press release (the English version) confirmed as much (emphasis mine):

Further works were kept in a house in Salzburg belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt. They were inspected at the house on Monday, February 10 this year and were then seized and insured. They numbered more than 60 pieces in total, including works by Monet, Renoir, and Picasso.

This week, however, it was reported in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and elsewhere this week that the real number in Salzburg was 238.  Sixty and 238 are materially different, to say the least.  Then, right on cue, Gurlitt’s website posted a press release, dated yesterday, that states:

The Salzburg portion of the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt is more extensive than at first thought. It encompasses 238 works of art, including 39 oil paintings.

This is straight down the rabbit hole.  More extensive than who first thought?  Gurlitt himself, when he issued the February 11, 2014 press release?  His own lawyers, who were the only ones with access to the information then (and now)?  The passive voice should fool no one at this point. 

The irony of these contradictory statements is apparently lost on the authors.  Credibility has been an issue since Gurlitt’s website launch.  From this perspective, whatever was left of that is now long gone.  Interestingly, the press release concludes, cryptically:

Attorney Dr. Hannes Hartung was discharged from his duties as Gurlitt’s representative with effect from today. To date, he was responsible for the art law aspects of the Gurlitt case and also conducted talks with claimants. Potential claimants are kindly asked to address Mr Edel’s office for the time being.
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