German collector accused of owning art looted by Nazis dies aged 81

The Guardian 6 May 2014
By Philip Oltermann

Cornelius Gurlitt passes away amid dispute over 1,280 artworks including pieces by Picasso, Chagall and Matisse

Cornelius Gurlitt’s Munich flat from which authorities seized 1,280 artworks in 2012, suspecting that some had been looted by the Nazis.

Berlin - The art collector Cornelius Gurlitt has died aged 81, his lawyers confirmed on Tuesday. Gurlitt, whose haul of modernist artworks has been at the centre of an international controversy since its discovery was made public last November, passed away in his Munich apartment on Monday afternoon.

After what his lawyers called a "difficult heart operation" earlier in the year, Gurlitt had spent the last few weeks in his flat in Munich's Schwabing district, where he had been receiving medical care.

It is the same flat from which authorities seized 1,280 works including pieces by Picasso, Chagall and Matisse in 2012, suspecting that some of them had originally been looted by the Nazis.

Gurlitt had inherited the collection from his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, who had bought artworks on behalf of Adolf Hitler.

It remains unclear whether Gurlitt wrote a will before his death. He never married and leaves behind no children. A sister passed away a few years ago.

The pictures from the Munich haul remain stored in a secret location, where they are being examined by a group of restitution experts.

In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine in November, Gurlitt said: "I have loved nothing more in my life than my pictures."

Sabine Rudolph, a restitution lawyer representing the descendants of the Dresden art collector Fritz Salo Glaser, said she hoped that Gurlitt's legal team had prepared for the eventuality of the octogenarian's death.

Claimants will be hoping that Gurlitt has bequeathed his artworks to the state of Bavaria, rather than a distant relative.
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