Date: 19 May 2015
Germany returns first work from Gurlitt hoard
Heirs of Paul Rosenberg retrieve a looted Matisse painting, more than two years after it was discovered along with 1,300 others
The first work from Cornelius Gurlitt’s controversial art collection was returned to the heirs of its original owner today, 15 May. Femme assise dans un fauteuil by Henri Matisse was discovered—stashed in a crate of tomatoes—in Gurlitt’s dishevelled Munich apartment in 2012. The painting was stolen from the French art dealer Paul Rosenberg by the Nazis during the Second World War.
German authorities found the work and around 1,300 others by artists such as Picasso, Renoir and Pissarro during a routine tax investigation (238 more pieces were discovered in his home in Salzburg). Much of the collection was assembled by Gurlitt’s father, the wartime art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, and is believed to be Nazi-loot.
The lawyer for the Rosenberg family, Christopher Marinello, who retrieved the painting from a storage facility near Munich, says the family “is very grateful for all the efforts”, and would like to express its gratitude to German officials, members of the government-appointed provenance Task Force and the Gurlitt family “for their cooperation and for their recognition of this historic claim”.
The German government has received criticism for seemingly dragging its heels in the restitution of works from the hoard. Although the collection was found in February 2012, German officials kept the discovery under wraps until the German magazine Focus broke the story in November 2013. The government then commissioned a provenance Task Force to study the collection; but after more than a year, the research group has only identified four pieces for restitution: the Rosenberg Matisse as well as Two Riders on the Beach by Max Liebermann, The Seine Seen from the Pont-Neuf, the Louvre in the Background, by Pissarro and a drawing by Carl Spitzweg. Disagreements over Gurlitt’s estate after his death in May 2014 have caused further delays.
“Provenance research takes time, you can’t rush it,” Marinello says. “But at the same time, you need to balance the needs of the victims’ families who have been searching for their history for 75 years.” Liebermann’s Two Riders on the Beach is also expected to be returned this week.