Nazi-looted trove contains lost works by Matisse, Dix

Tue Nov 5, 2013 1:23pm EST
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By Sarah Marsh and Michelle Martin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Previously unknown paintings by Henri Matisse and Otto Dix are among a vast trove of Nazi-looted art found in a Munich apartment that includes works by some of Europe's most celebrated artists, German experts said on Tuesday.

Customs investigators seized the 1,400 art works, dating from the 16th century to the modern period and by artists such as Canaletto, Courbet, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, last year, an official said.

They had remained silent until now not because of any "improper intentions", they added, but because they had chanced upon the art during a tax evasion probe, which compels secrecy.

While experts consider the works to be of huge artistic value, the task of returning them to their rightful owners could take many years and poses a huge legal and moral problem for German authorities.

The haul, found in the flat of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of a war-time art dealer, is one of the most significant discoveries of works seized by the Nazi regime. It could be worth more than 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion), according to a German magazine, although officials declined to comment.

Gurlitt, who occasionally sold paintings to support himself, has since vanished.

The paintings, which were found in generally good condition, are being stored in an undisclosed location and no list will be published - something that has been criticized by those seeking to recover lost art. The decision may be intended to deter false claims that would distract expert investigations.

"When you stand in front of works that were long considered lost, missing or destroyed, and you see them again, in a relatively good condition - a little bit dirty but not damaged - it's an incredible feeling of happiness," said Meike Hoffmann, an art expert from Berlin's Free University who has been assessing the find.   Continued...

A painting by German artist Max Liebermann 'Zwei Reiter am Strande' ("Two Horsemen at the Beach") is beamed to a wall November 5, 2013, at an Augsburg courtroom during a news conference of state prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz and expert art historian Meike Hoffmann from the Berlin Free University. REUTERS/Michael Dalder