A TREASURE trove of artworks worth around €1 billion – seized by the Nazis and reportedly destroyed in RAF bombing raids during WW2 – has been found behind rotting food in an apartment in Munich.
The trove includes masterpieces by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, according to Germany’s Focus magazine.
The artwork was deemed ‘degenerate” by the Nazi hierachy, stolen from collectors – many of them Jewish – and ordered to be shut away by Hitler.
Other works among the 1500 discovered in the flat are by Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Liebermann.
They were discovered after tax authorities investigated Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of art dealer Hildebrandt Gurlitt, in early 2011.
His home in Munich was searched after he was suspected of tax evasion and officials found the pieces.
A customs spokesman said: “We went into the apartment expecting to find a few thousand undeclared euros, maybe a black bank account. But we were stunned with what we found. From floor to ceiling, from bedroom to bathroom, were piles and piles of old food in tins and old noodles, much of it from the eighties. And behind it all these pictures worth tens, hundreds of millions of euros.”
The recovered works are now in a security wing of Bavarian customs in Garching near Munich and Berlin art historian Meike Hoffmann leads the team of experts in trying, nearly 70 years after the the war ended, to find the heirs to the rightful owners.
“This is a sensational find,” the spokesman added. “A true treasure trove. It is an incredible story.”
Hitler and his propaganda minister Josef Goebbels seized some 20,000 such works before WW2, many of which were displayed in the “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich. Hitler liked only romantic paintings that idolised his vision of German supermen.
Those who owned the paintings were forced to sell them at rock-bottom prices to art dealers with connections to the regime’s hierachy in order to purchase expensive exit visas to flee Germany.
Focus reported that investigators later found a bank savings book of Cornelius Gurlitt with half-a-million euros on deposit in it, the fruits of his sale of the artwork over the years.
Although Gurlitt faces jail for tax evasion and money laundering, many of the paintings could be returned to him if their rightful heirs are not found.
Gurlitt is a name well-known to art afficiandos, a family who once catered to the elite of the German art collecting scene. Hildebrand Gurlitt was among the most respected art historians in Germany by the time the Nazis came to power in 1933.
He was later tasked by Goebbels personally to “versilbern” (turn into cash) the degenerate artworks of the Jews for the regime.
Investigators have not named the items which they found as they continue to try to reunite them with their rightful owners,but one of the paintings is said to be a portrait of a woman by the French master Matisse that belonged in the collection of the Jewish connoisseur Paul Rosenberg.
His granddaughter Anne Sinclair, the former wife of disgraced former top banker Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been fighting for decades for the return of his pictures stolen by the Nazis. According to Focus she “knew nothing” of the existence of this painting.