Recluse Denies Precious Art Hoard Stolen from Jews

Cape Times (South Africa), November 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

Recluse Denies Precious Art Hoard Stolen from Jews


BYLINE: Stephen Brown Reuters

BERLIN: The German recluse whose billion-dollar art hoard was seized by authorities, has broken his silence to ask for the pictures back and to deny that his father, an art dealer for Hitler, extorted any from Jewish owners.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, making his first serious comments since details of the trove were revealed two weeks ago, Cornelius Gurlitt, 80, recalled helping his father save some of the works from wartime Dresden and said the state had no right to impound treasures he called the love of his life.

Compared with the deaths of his father, Hildebrand, his mother or his sister, "parting with my pictures was the most painful of all", he said.

"I haven't loved anything more than my pictures in my life... But hopefully it will all be cleared up soon and I will finally get my pictures back."

Dismissing suggestions that he might return some of the 1 406 paintings to survivors of Nazi persecution, Gurlitt insisted he had inherited them legally and had sold only an occasional masterpiece to cover medical and living expenses.

Customs officers found him crossing the Swiss border by train in 2010 with a large sum in cash, eventually prompting a raid of his apartment early last year. Prosecutors confiscated works by Renaissance and Modernist masters, some long thought lost in the war.

The authorities have valued at e1 billion (R13bn) a collection that includes works by Picasso, Otto Dix, Matisse, Chagall and German expressionists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

But Gurlitt, who has kept out of sight, said he could not understand what all the fuss was about.

Since another German magazine broke the story about the find, the Berlin government has faced sharp criticism for keeping it secret for nearly two years.

The government has begun posting more details online to help people hunting works stolen by the Nazis, or bought under duress, from Jews fleeing persecution before and during the Holocaust.

But the legal status of the hoard is unclear. …

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