Nearly 1,500 original pieces of artwork (by artists including Matisse, Picasso, and Chagall) were discovered in a dusty German apartment. These paintings are valued at an estimated $1.3 billion according to the German magazine, Focus.
The stash of hidden works was apparently discovered in 2011 but has been kept under wraps until now. Despite the secrecy, spokesman Steffen Seibert of the German government claims that Berlin had been aware of the case for “several months” and was conducting an investigation.
It is believed that hundreds of these masterpieces were stolen from Jewish collectors and families by the Nazis. CNN reports that “The collection is said to include works by Modernist masters Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, Franz Marc, Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, many of which had been believed destroyed during World War II.
Customs police encountered these paintings while investigating the “rubbish-strewn” apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt. Gurlitt was caught by the customs police while on a train to Munich holding a large amount of cash. The art had been hidden among the junk in his apartment for over 50 years.
This 80-year-old man is the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a prominent art collector of the 1930s and 40s. The Nazis used Hildebrand to sell “degenerate” art to foreign buyers despite the fact that he had a Jewish grandmother. However, Hildebrand secretly sold some of the works to Germans and hoarded the rest for himself. Since being found, the paintings are being held safely in a customs warehouse outside of Munich.
Now, the issue at hand is returning the artwork to its rightful owners. Anne Webber, founder of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, told the BBC that “People have been looking for their looted art for 75 years now so if there are 1,500 paintings here it stands to reason that these are a lot of looted paintings that belong to families which should be returned to them.”
She asserts that returning these works to families is about more than just financial value. “These were works that were taken from families whose lives were utterly destroyed or transformed by the Nazis, and so for them the return of this art is both justice and a form of reconnection to that life that was taken away from them.”