Have you heard of Cornelius Gurlitt? No, not the composer who died at 81 at the turn of the 20th century, and not the architect who died in 1938, but their nephew and grandson, an art keeper and the son of an infamous art dealer, Hildebrand Gurlitt? Does not ring a bell? Well, little is know about this Cornelius, apart from his age (he was born the year Nazis came to power, in 1933), his address in Munich (see below), his love for his collection (“there is nothing I have loved more in my life than my pictures“) , and his international travel habits (by train with less than 10,000 euros in cash).
Some believe he has a Twitter account, with the handle of @CGurlitt, not to be confused with @CultureGrrl. If Cornelius has been remiss in paying German government taxes, he is surely not alone in this oversight.
Now, in all seriousness, there has been a flood of writing with Cornelius cast as a villain or at least as a protagonist because for decades he has managed to keep a large collection of Expressionist art hidden from the preying eyes of art historians, art market and families seeking restitution of art works stolen and displaced during World War II. The staggering volume of articles written and recycled since the story broke in November, dedicated to Cornelius and ‘his’ art is due in part to the slow response of the German government to the find. The record-setting prices for art works sold in recent auctions as well as the precious time running out for the claimants to recover their stolen property surely drive the international interest and explain the urgent need to find out exactly what constitutes the Gurlitt collection and where these artworks belong. As some have described the Gurlitt story, it is a gift that keeps on giving, regardless of the actual fair market value of the collection. There are many lessons that may be extracted from it, not the last being a possibility of Gurlitt legally owning most of not all of the works.
Instead of writing a digest about the situation unfolding in Germany and recognizing various competing interests vying for the Gurlitt trove, Center for Art Law is putting together a suggested reading list of articles and research references of use to illuminate the Gurlitt story. For the benefit of our readers most of the materials we offer will be in English, unless there is something outstanding and unique published in other languages. As always, any suggestions are welcomed.
News Reports of Note:
Bernhard Schulz, “Comment: What next for the Gurlitt treasures?” The ArtNewspaper, Issue 253, Dec. 2013
“In the Shadow of the Holocaust: An ARt Trove Exposes a Legal Vacuum” The Economist Nov. 30, 2013.
“ONE day Hollywood will spin its yarns around Cornelius Gurlitt, the eccentric 80-year-old recluse who lived quietly for decades in a drab Munich flat amid towers of canned food and 1,406 stunning works of art. But first lawyers, diplomats and the descendants of Jews and other victims of the Nazis need their questions answered….”
Simon Shuster, “Why the Man Who Hoarded Nazi-Looted Art May Get to Keep It All” Time Nov. 19, 2013.
“In the court of public opinion, Cornelius Gurlitt never stood much of a chance. Last year, during a search of his Munich apartment, German authorities found a massive hoard of paintings that the Nazis seized from Jewish collectors during the Holocaust…”
Ozlem Gezer, “Interview with a Phantom: Cornelius Gurlitt Shares His Secrets” Spiegel Online Nov. 17, 2013.
“No one had ever seen Cornelius Gurlitt in his nightshirt before, until a day in February 2012, when they broke the lock and marched in — the strangers, as he calls them — the customs investigators and officials with the Augsburg public prosecutor’s office….”
“It is the jewel of the more than 1,400 works in the trove of suspected Nazi loot discovered in Munich: “Woman with a Fan,” a 1923 Matisse oil painting that depicts a cream-skinned brunette in a flowered blouse holding a gold and navy fan….”
Alex Webb and Catherine Hickley, “Nazi Loot Heirs Look To Reclusive Hoarder to Recover Art,” Bloomberg Nov. 13, 2013.
“Ekkeheart Gurlitt has little good to say about his cousin Cornelius, who hoarded hundreds of works by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall for the past half century. There’s one positive thing, though, that he’ll tell you about the 80-year-old recluse: He saved the art….”
“1500 Werke von Künstlern wie Picasso, Chagall und MatisseMeisterwerke zwischen Müll – Fahnder entdecken in München Nazi-Schatz in Milliardenhöhe” Focus Nov. 4, 2013.
Tracing Gurlitt through Provenance Research Tools
- National Archives (MD, USA) — article written by Dr. Greg Bradsher with recommendations;
- MNR Database — Site Rose-Valland, Musées Nationaux Récupération
- German Historical Museum
- The Getty Provenance Index Database
If you want a quick short digest of the story, take a look at the Wikipedia. Why not?