Art Law - Amazing Treasure Trove found - Degenerate art looted by the Nazis


Amazing Treasure Trove found – Degenerate art looted by the Nazis

A major cache of Nazis looted artwork has been discovered in an 80 year old man’s flat in Schwabing. 1,500 priceless artworks estimated to be worth over a billion Euros was hidden behind large stock piles of rotting old tins of food.

Cornelius Gurlitt, the owner of the flat, is the son of the late art historian Hildebrandt Gurlitt, appointed by the Nazis to “liquidate” hundreds of modernist masterpieces by artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka, Max Libermann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Art by these artists was described degenerate and destined for destruction. Many artworks found are thought to have been shown in the Degenerate exhibition. They were meant to be destroyed following the exhibition. Hildebrandt Gurlitt had claimed his remaining collection was destroyed in a fire at his home.

This art would have been bought from Jewish families at vastly reduced rates in order for them to buy exit visas to gain safe passage to safer countries. These pressured sales would give rise to restitution claims to surviving descendants today. Time limits maybe an issue but the spirit of the law may be applied. (See the Peter Sachs case heard last year in March in the Highest Court in Germany, the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe.)

This is a great discovery for art historians, plugging the missing gap for many important missing masterpieces. It is also may be an opportunity for descendants to come forward with restitution claims and reclaim property that is rightfully theirs that was once thought lost forever.

Jessica Franses is a barrister specialising in art law and an associate of the leading barrister portal