Nazi Loot Hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt Dead at 81

Who will assume ownership of his art trove?

Nazi loot hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt.
Nazi loot hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt.
Photo: Melmedia.

Cornelius Gurlitt died on the morning of May 6 in his Munich apartment, according to a release sent out by his spokesman, Stephan Holzinger on Tuesday afternoon. “With the death of Cornelius Gurlitt, the investigation also ends,” Holzinger writes in German. According to the release, Gurlitt was hospitalized several weeks ago for a operation on his long-failing heart. Thereafter, he was moved back to his Munich apartment, where close to 1300 pieces of alleged Nazi loot by such artists as Picasso, Matisse and Courbet had been found and seized in 2012. The discovery shocked the art world and greater public at large when revealed last November. As Gurlitt has no children or other known heirs, it is currently unclear who will assume ownership of the numerous pieces from the art trove that were scheduled to be returned to his possession in the near future.

It is also unclear who will assume ownership of a stash of 60 artworks including additional pieces by Monet, Manet, Renoir, and others found in his Salzburg residence, and the third stash of 180 works found at his home in Bad Aussee. Neither of those collections are believed to contain Nazi loot.

As part of an agreement reached on April 7 with the Bavarian state prosecutor, Gurlitt was required to return a number of works to the heirs of their former owners. Under the agreement, the state has one year to complete its provenance research of the collection’s works.

The collection was given to him by his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was one of three dealers enlisted by the Nazi regime to sell so-called degenerate art to collectors outside of the country.

Aside from an extensive interview published in  Der Spiegel in November 2013, Gurlitt’s only other public statement was a single type-written and signed one dated February 16, 2014. In it he pleads with authorities to return his pictures, which he had previously said were his only friends: “I only wish to live with my pictures in peace and quiet.” Sadly, he’ll never get the chance.

Reports in the German press range from the Frankfurter Allgemeine and Der Spiegel.

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