November 6, 2013

Trove of art found in Germany sets off sleuthing

The family of a deceased Parisian art dealer says it will try to claim a Matisse that is among the 1,400 works, possibly stolen by the Nazis, found stashed in an apartment.

By Jill Lawless And Kirsten Grieshaber
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

A researcher for the Art Loss Register in London points to a picture on a news website showing a painting by Henry Matisse titled “Sitting Woman,” which is part of the art recently found in Munich, Germany.

The Associated Press

Others will turn to the Art Loss Register, which maintains a database of several hundred thousand works of stolen or missing art.

The organization’s team of art sleuths, historians and legal experts was busy Wednesday trying to match works on its database with the items found in Germany. Radcliffe says it has already found one match – not the Matisse – but won’t say what artwork it is.

Although there has been criticism of the Germans’ delay in announcing the find, art law expert Coco Soodek was sympathetic. She said the trove is so large that it takes time to catalog the works – and “it might take a decade” to reunite them with their owners. German officials say they have done preliminary work on only 500 pieces so far.

“It’s like a giant game of ‘Concentration,’ ” said Soodek, head of the art law team at Bryan Cave LLP. “They will designate the ones that we know to exist and match those up with documentation of stolen art. Those are the easy ones. You match up the ones you can get to first, and then you start a big detective search.”

She said families who think their artworks may have been stolen by the Nazis “should do a little treasure hunt for records – oral histories or anecdotes or memories of art that might have been in the house.”

For the moment, many mysteries remain.

The reclusive Gurlitt sold at least one painting, Max Beckmann’s “The Lion Tamer,” through a Cologne auction house two years ago. Experts want to know whether he sold others, and where they are now.

Where, for that matter, is Gurlitt? Prosecutors said Tuesday they are not currently in contact with him, although Radcliffe thinks they will seek to strike a deal with him to hand over his artworks in lieu of a huge tax bill.

And prospective owners can be reassured on one count. A German customs investigator says the works were “professionally stored and in a very good condition.”

Radcliffe said while works on paper could be fragile, oil paintings on canvas or board should be largely undamaged after decades in storage.

“Oil paintings are fairly robust,” he said. “They don’t really deteriorate.”

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