“Owner” of Stolen Art Decides to Cooperate

stolen art

Two years ago, a large cache of stolen art was found in the home of German citizen Cornelius Gurlitt. While it could not be immediately ascertained that every painting was the work of thievery, it was suspected that many of the works were those taken by German forces during WWII. After some resistance, Gurlitt has agreed to cooperate until a decision on the stolen art can be reached.

Over 1400 paintings were found by tax investigators when they searched Gurlitt’s home in 2012, many of which were among those believed to have seen destruction at the hands of the Nazi regime. It has now been decided that the paintings will have to be investigated piece by piece. Those which are deemed to be stolen art will have to be decided upon on an individual basis, with returns made to the rightful owners wherever possible. In the event that no such decision is reached on a given work, it will revert back to Gurlitt’s possession.

With artists such as Picasso contributing to the paintings in his collection, Gurlitt was in possession of well over one billion dollars’ worth of goods. Despite the rarity of the paintings, he maintained that absolutely none of it was the fabled stolen art of WWII. Some have already declared ownership rights to some of the works due to the alleged theft of the paintings from family members; unfortunately, avarice may be at hand as at least one painting has been laid claim to by two different families.

Investigations will be tough, but the task force handling the research hopes to be done within twelve months. Technically, Gurlitt did not have to cooperate with the seizure at all due to the statute of limitations on the allegedly stolen art which dictates that it would have to have been claimed within thirty years of the day its ownership came under dispute. If such disputes are found to have merit, his decision to willfully comply will mean the return of countless treasures to their rightful heirs, the BBC News reports.

Whether or not the paintings constitute stolen art or not, there is little doubt as to the significance of Gurlitt’s collection. With numerous hitherto unknown masterpieces among the works seized he could easily make a fortune if he decided to sell any and all works which revert back to him. Some speculation that his collection is comprised of stolen art arises from the simple fact that he has only sold paintings when in tight need of cash, though Gurlitt claims this is out of sheer desire to live his life amongst the artwork in his home.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE