Search is on for second cache of art confiscated by the Nazis

Collector’s son who lived in flat where €1bn haul was found disappears without trace

Berlin

German customs officials were yesterday searching for what they believe is a second secret cache of modernist paintings looted by the Nazis following the sensational discovery of 1,500 masterpieces by artists including Picasso and Paul Klee in a squalid Munich apartment.

The huge haul of so called “degenerate” art confiscated by the Nazis from Jewish owners during the 1930s and 1940s is estimated to be worth some €1bn (£846m).

Its discovery by customs officials in 2011 was revealed by Germany’s Focus magazine at the weekend. The paintings were discovered stacked between dirty plates and cans of food past their sell-by date, in the run-down apartment of the reclusive 80–year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of an art collector who was yesterday said to have disappeared without trace.

“He could be anywhere in Germany. We think he may have access to unlimited funds,” a Munich customs spokesman said. The works are currently being held in a customs storage depot outside Munich while a state prosecutor’s investigation continues.

Customs officials said they were searching for a second cache of valuable “lost” art works by modern masters including Picasso, Max Beckmann, and Marc Chagall among others, which they thought Mr Gurlitt was living off by slowly selling them and parking the proceeds in a Swiss account.

They said their suspicions were raised by his sale of a Max Beckmann  masterpiece entitled “The Lion Tamer” at auction in Cologne in December 2011 – two months after his  secret cache of paintings was discovered and confiscated by customs officials. “The Lion Tamer” was sold off for a total of €864,000 at the Lempertz auction house.

Mr Gurlitt assumed all the characteristics of a mystery man yesterday. Customs officials said he appeared to have done everything possible to avoid detection:  they said he had not registered his address, which is illegal in Germany, had no social security number, no computer, no mobile phone and neither doctor nor dentist. He has no living relatives.

His huge cache of artworks was procured by his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, a well-known pre-war art dealer who acquired the paintings for next to nothing from their mainly Jewish owners after the Nazis ruled that the works  were “degenerate art” which had no place in an Aryan Third Reich. In many cases the Jewish owners had to sell the works to fund their escape from the impending Holocaust

Mr Gurlitt Sr’s wife, Elena, is said to have told officials after the war that the paintings were destroyed in the devastating  allied air raid on Dresden in February 1945. However, her son hung on to them and kept them hidden in the squalid Munich apartment still registered in his mother’s name despite her death in 1967.

Cornelius Gurlitt was stopped by customs officers searching for currency smugglers while travelling on a train from Switzerland to Munich. He had €9,000 in a paper envelope, which was legal. Customs officers were nevertheless suspicious. They stumbled on the vast collection when they searched his home in October 2011.

State prosecutors have launched an investigation into what is believed to be the discovery of the biggest haul of artworks looted by the Nazis since 1945.

The Berlin art historian Professor Meike Hoffmann is currently trying to establish the identities of the paintings’ original owners. Most of the art works were thought to have been irretrievably lost. There are search warrants out for 200 of the paintings. Professor Hoffmann said she was unable to comment yesterday as the legal investigation was still underway.

The works are said to include a series are by the impressionist Franz Marc. One of them – “Die Blauen Pferde am Strand”, or “The Blue Horses on the Beach” – is valued at €45m.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administrator - London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administra...

Recruitment Genius: .NET Web Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£14616 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading specialist in Electronic Ci...

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Press / Mac Operator / Artworker - Digital & Litho Print

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: With year on year growth and a reputation for ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003