Labelled degenerate and subversive by the Nazis, the news that a over 1400 missing artworks have been discovered in a Munich apartment marks the latest cache of pre-war masterpieces to be uncovered after a prolonged and exhaustive search spanning more than 60 years. The collection, valued in the billions, features work from such luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagal and Toulouse Lautrec – with many thought irrevocably lost or previously unknown.
Until now, the only way to see a fraction of these pieces was within artist books or as prints from popular outlets such as posterlounge.co.uk. However, following the discovery, art critics and fans alike are hoping to see the lost examples in full light for the first time since the wholesale confiscation of countless works during the 30’s and 40’s.
The collection was uncovered in the basement of Cornelius Gurlitt in March 2012 and, in an attempt to stem the potential clamour over rights of ownership; German officials have kept them under lock-and-key until a comprehensive catalogue was made. Angela Merkel herself has confessed to knowledge of the hoard and German authorities are now taking great pains to ensure any claims to ownership are dealt with rigorously.
Confiscated and Sold
Mr Gurlit is the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, one of the famous art dealers tasked with the Nazi’s contemptible policy of confiscation and subsequent sale of pieces from famous names such as Picasso. Jewish families were often coerced into sales well below market value in order to fund their escape from the Holocaust whilst the remainder of the works was simply confiscated from galleries and dealerships.
The return of the paintings to their rightful owners promises to be a long and drawn out affair, however, the benefits to the art-world as a whole cannot be underestimated. Officials are still unsure as to how to proceed in the case of Mr Gurlitt since concrete evidence over exactly what his crime may constitute is sadly lacking.