Nazi appropriated art


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This article is taken from Paul Howcroft’s blog Art Law London.

The Gurlitt story continues to fascinate the art world.

My earlier post ‘Nazi looted art’ reflected the view at the time that any stash of Nazi art must have been looted, and that Cornelius Gurlitt and the art seized from his flat would not be reunited. I suppose we should have known that no one who has secretly kept a €1.4bn collection for 45 years would give it up without a fight.

Gurlitt’s account of events and his lawyers’ arguments are now set out in a website that he or his lawyers have just set up Gurlitt.info. However, whether Gurlitt still has his mental faculties seems to be open to question. As the site explains, at the behest of Gurlitt’s doctors, the Munich court has appointed a guardian, and yet it does not deprive him of the legal capacity to enter into contracts. In the cryptic words of the Q&A section of the website, “You can draw your own conclusions from this information”.

The website paints a picture that had already emerged in outline since November. In particular, part of the art was owned by Cornelius’s father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, before the Nazi era and a lot of the rest had then been removed from public galleries and institutions, as so called “degenerate art”, and sold to Hildebrand. It is said that only 3% of the works (35 of 1,280 items) have been claimed as “looted art” by the heirs of four Jewish owners, which Gurlitt is willing to consider. Yet the identities of the works have only recently been revealed, so that number seems set to rise.

The website makes the point that the German limitation period is 30 years from any theft, which has long since expired. However, the Bundesrat is presently working on a new law to extend that period.

This is a story that will run and run, and I will revisit it.

Paul Howcroft, Partner, Fladgate LLP (phowcroft@fladgate.com)

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