BERLIN - Cornelius Gurlitt, who for decades hoarded a collection of modern European masterpieces by artists such as Chagall, Matisse, Otto Dix and Max Beckmann before it was discovered in 2012 in his Munich apartment, has died, his spokesman said. He was 81.
Mr. Gurlitt had suffered from heart problems and underwent surgery late last year, only weeks after the existence of his collection of paintings and drawings became public. He died Tuesday in Munich, said Stephan Holzinger, his spokesman, without initially giving further details.
Authorities in the south German state of Bavaria seized around 1,280 artworks in February 2012 from Mr. Gurlitt’s home as part of an investigation into possible tax evasion. However, the seizure was not made public until last November when the German newsweekly Focus broke the story, triggering an international outcry over the failure of German authorities to make the startling find public.
Mr. Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, apparently built up the collection in the 1930s and 1940s when he acted as one of only four dealers allowed to buy and sell modernist works reviled by the Nazis, many of which had been owned by Jewish families. The heirs of those owners were among the most vocal in calling for the collection to be made public.
German authorities responded by forming a task force to identify the works and attempting to trace their previous ownership, posting several hundred on the government’s public database for lost or stolen art, www.lostart.de.
It was not immediately clear what would happen to the works, which are still held by the task force. Under an agreement reached earlier this year with Mr. Gurlitt, the team of international experts was granted the right to continue its provenance research.