One of the big stories over the weekend is the recovery of what may ultimately amount to around $1 billion in stolen modernist art, hidden away in a German flat.
The Guardian and other outlets are reporting that German authorities have seized around 1,500 paintings from the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, passed down from his father Hildebrand.
This is one of the few happy endings in a grotesque chapter in a war that was especially rife with grotesqueries. Nazis would seize so-called “degenerate art” (a wonderfully vague classification for any piece that contrasted too greatly with the state aesthetic of might in some way be politically sensitive — or, you know, just belonging to Jewish collectors), often made their way into the hands of private collectors, where they’ve remained hidden or sold clandestinely in the decades since the conclusion of World War II.
Works by Picasso, Matisse, and Max Beckman were among the works seized from the Gurlitt home. According to The Guardian piece, German authorities might be reticent to fully catalog all of the works recovered so far: all of that art belonged to someone at some point — whether the original creators or the art collectors who might be six feet under at this point. But they could all conceivably have descendants who would seek to recover their art as well as reparations from Germany for the seizure of their family’s property.
While it’s unknown to what extent either the senior or junior Gurlitt has been trafficking in the stolen artworks, at least one piece, Beckman’s “The Lion Tamer,” surfaced at auction back in 2011.
[Header image: “The Lion Tamer” by Max Beckman]