US documents raise questions on Munich art hoard
BERLIN (AP) — U.S. military documents are deepening the mystery surrounding the more than 1,400 artworks found in a Munich apartment.
In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, the American military seized 20 boxes of art from German dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt in Aschbach in December 1945, according to documents located by The Associated Press in the U.S. National Archives in Washington.
Gurlitt had worked closely with the Nazi regime in the 1930s to sell art it considered "degenerate" to fill its war coffers.
American investigators at the time expressed doubts about Gurlitt's claims to the works, but they eventually decided that in most cases he was the rightful owner. So on Dec. 15, 1950, the U.S. returned 206 items to him: 115 paintings, 19 drawings and 72 "various other objects."
At least three of the artworks documented by the Americans have now re-surfaced, found hidden in the Munich apartment of Gurlitt's son, 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, during a tax evasion probe that German prosecutors announced earlier this week.
The three paintings that the Americans returned to Cornelius' father in 1950 and which have showed up in the Munich trove are Max Liebermann's "Two Riders on the Beach;" Otto Dix's self-portrait and an allegorical painting by Marc Chagall.
A painting of Otto Dix "Selbstportrait Rauchend" ("Selfportrait Smoking") is projected on a screen during a news conference in Augsburg, southern Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, on the art found in Munich. A hoard of more than 1,400 art works found last year at a Munich apartment includes previously unknown pieces by artists including Marc Chagall, German investigators said Tuesday, adding that they face a hugely complicated task to establish where the art came from. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)
Also found in the son's apartment were paintings, drawings, engravings, woodcuts and prints by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Oskar Kokoschka, and leading German artists Dix, Liebermann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
Prosecutors gave few further details about the overall collection. Still, they said they found evidence that at least one item in the Munich apartment — a Henri Matisse painting of a sitting woman — was stolen by the Nazis from a French bank in 1942.
Christoph Zuschlag, an art historian at the University of Koblenz, said the American documents indicated U.S. investigators suspected right after the war that Gurlitt may have been in possession of looted art.
He said if German authorities published a full list of the find at the apartment, then experts could determine more quickly whether Gurlitt was the rightful owner.
"As a historian, I have to say pictures and information about all the art has to be published online immediately," he said. "A whole team of experts should work on this discovery and try to answer all the remaining open questions."