Industry

Hoarder of “Nazi Art” Dies Leaving Its Return in Limbo

Nazi Looted Art

Cornelius Gurlitt, the infamous son of a Nazi art dealer, died on Tuesday at the age of 81. Gurlitt shocked the world when German police found 1,280 works from venerated artists like Picasso, Chagall and Matisse, in his Munich apartment, many of which were believed to be stolen Holocaust-era Nazi loot. The German government had been holding the works, researching their provenance in an attempt to return them to their rightful owners but Gurlitt been fighting to have these works returned to his possession. Unless proven otherwise, the works remain Gurlitt’s property. With very little progress made in discovering the provenance of these works, legal pressures had been building to return the works to Gurlitt.

Provenance is particularly difficulty in Nazi looting cases due to the spotty records available. The worked were looted mostly from Jews before being sent to concentration camps, and those who survived do not have the records or other proof of ownership necessary to make a claim. Most records related to these works were destroyed during the Bombing of Dresden, the city where the Gurlitt’s family lived, making the process even more difficult. In four raids between February 13-15th 1945, over 1200 heavy bombers dropped more than 3,900 tons of high explosives and incendiary devices on the city destroying over 6.5 km2 of the city and killing 25,000 people. Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrandt managed to move the works out of the city before the bombing. Hildebrandt Gurlitt was caught at the end of the war but managed to keep existence of his collection secret by convincing his interrogators that his art collection had been destroyed.

 So far, only seven works have been returned to their rightful owners.

But by far the greatest impediment to retuning the works lies in German law itself; under German law, the works would not have to be returned to their original owners because the statute of limitations had expired. However, this case has brought this problem to the forefront and now some in the German government are calling for changes to the law.

Unfortunately, without those changes and with such little progress on restitution, the public prosecutor had been under pressure to release the works back to Gurlitt. Of the 1280 works found in Gurlitt’s apartment, 350 were likely to have been owned by the Gurlitt family prior to Hitler coming to power. While provenance on the rest is unknown, only seven restitution claims have been settled so far. So in early April, the public prosecutor finally gave in to Gurlitt’s demands but as part of the deal, Gurlitt agreed to allow a German task force of experts to continue examining the provenance of the works for another year.

Now, with Gurlitt’s death the works are once again in legal limbo. He had no known heirs; his sister Benita died childless in 2012 and Gurlitt himself was never married nor had any children. There were no tax records, bank accounts, official health records or even a telephone number in his name. His only income appeared to come from selling the occasional work of art.

Under Bavarian law, if no valid will or contract of inheritance is provided, then the court will be appointed to decide who, if anyone, should inherit the property. For now, the 1280 works are being held at a secret location, for security reasons, along with an additional 238 works that were found Gurlitt’s second home in Saltzburg, Austria.

About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art and law. Should you have any questions on Intellectual Property contact him at [email protected] His photography can be seen online at Fotofilosophy.com or on display at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York City.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Orangenius

We built Orangenius to help creators succeed. Our comprehensive platform takes the guesswork out of the business of art, so you can focus on creating. Click to see how Orangenius is revolutionizing the creative economy.

JOIN FOR FREE

The Latest From Artrepreneur

  • How to Earn Your Living as a Travel Photographer

    The prospect of traveling the world while getting paid to work may seem farfetched, but these two photographers have the ticket to landing freelance creative work across the globe. Here, Andy Donohoe and Michaela Trimble share their advice for […]

  • A Recruiter’s Advice for your Video or Motion Design Reel

    Creative Circle recruiter Brooks Rowlett sifts through hundreds of motion design reels and video editor portfolios each week. Here, he shares his best advice for motion designers and video editors looking to land their next big gig. The post A […]

  • From Tattoo Artist to Brand Empire: The Rise of the Ink Mogul

    The savvy tattoo artist uses brand recognition to launch a multimedia business. These four artists have leveraged their underground celebrity status to build a brand empire, complete with product lines, book deals, and TV contracts. The post From […]

  • Exploring the Intersection of Art and Technology

    The advent of technology is re-shaping the practice of art. These educational institutions, artists, and startups are exploring art and technology's convergence in today's increasingly digital world. The post Exploring the Intersection of Art and […]

  • Work with an Artist Mentor to Get Your Career on Track

    Many of the world's most recognized artists sought inspiration and guidance from their peers. Gain insight into your practice and learn about the business of art by finding an artist mentor whose career aligns with your own vision for success. The […]

  • Why Artists Need to Make Copyright Registration a Priority

    Sharing, posting, and distributing your work online is easier than ever - but often times, visual artists find themselves dealing with online piracy issues as a result of that practice. Initiating a copyright registration routine can curb the […]

  • How Artists on Social Media Can Grow Their Following

    By sticking to the tenets of the social media pyramid, artists on social media can develop an engaged audience. The post How Artists on Social Media Can Grow Their Following appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How [and Where] to Submit an Art Fair Application

    Submitting an art fair application doesn't have to be an arduous process. We break down which fairs are currently accepting submissions, and how you should apply. The post How [and Where] to Submit an Art Fair Application appeared first on […]

  • The Paperwork Behind Your Art Business [Part I]

    In this ongoing series, we'll review the various documents needed to get your art business up and running. First up: Crafting your artist proposal. The post The Paperwork Behind Your Art Business [Part I] appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • A Creative Career Coach Outlines a Strategy for the Working Artist

    Marc Zegans coaches artists planning the next move in their art careers. Here, he shares his proven approach for developing your practice as a working artist. The post A Creative Career Coach Outlines a Strategy for the Working Artist appeared first […]

  • How One Artist Uses Instagram to Land Consistent Illustration Gigs

    Illustrator Maria Luque's secret to landing a steady stream of illustration gigs? Just be consistent and post regularly on Instagram. The post How One Artist Uses Instagram to Land Consistent Illustration Gigs appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Artists Who Failed – And Found Success Anyway

    Some of the world's most successful artists weren't always so revered. Meet five artists who failed to develop their art careers during their lifetime. The post Artists Who Failed – And Found Success Anyway appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How Do Online Content Moderation Policies Treat Nudity in Art?

    As Facebook's online content moderation policies come under fire, we review creative platform Orangenius' policy on nudity in art. The post How Do Online Content Moderation Policies Treat Nudity in Art? appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Self Employed? Five Ways To Get Into the Creative Habit

    Self-employed artists don't always leave room for inspiration. Boost productivity and get into the creative habit with these proven strategies. The post Self Employed? Five Ways To Get Into the Creative Habit appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • A Creative in a Corporate Organization: Related Group’s Art Department

    In this ongoing series, we explore the creative roles available in the most unlikely of corporations. Our first installment talks to Patricia Hanna, the Art Director of Related Group. The post A Creative in a Corporate Organization: Related […]