The recent disclosure that German authorities temporarily seized a cache of more than 1,400 paintings, lithographs, drawings and prints from the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt in March 2012 has stunned the art world.
According to media reports, in 2010 Gurlitt was stopped during a routine search on a German train traveling from Zurich to Munich and was found with 9.000 Euros in cash in an envelope. Further inquiry led German investigators to obtain a search warrant for his apartment in Munich, and the ensuing search led to the discovery of the collection. Prosecutors later indicated that the paintings had been acquired by several means, ranging from Nazi confiscations from German Museums of “degenerate art,” to forced sales by Jewish collectors attempting to flee Germany.
Since the disclosure of the Gurlitt collection, the German Government has started to post images and details of its contents on a website, www.lostart.de. The potentially looted art includes works by Matisse, Chagall, Beckmann, Nolde and Picasso. The list posted by the German government can be found here.
The Gurlitt revelations have led some to call upon Germany to create an international commission to scour its public museums for art stolen by the Nazis. Former U.S. Ambassador Ronald Lauder, who is also president of the World Jewish Congress, has urged Germany to gather a high profile group of art researchers and restitution experts to study the ownership histories of every single artwork with possible Nazi ties in Germany's public museums. He and others argue that these experts should be empowered to act proactively instead of merely reacting to requests from heirs of Nazi victims.
For now, however, heirs of the original owners of looted artworks must navigate an enormously complex minefield of varying and often conflicting German laws. Osen LLC is one of the few law firms that has successfully navigated this legal obstacle course and won a resounding legal victory in recovering looted art in the German High Court. If you are interested in finding out if you can make a claim for the return of your family’s property, please contact Osen LLC.