Nazi Hoarder Hands Over Art

Berlin -- Cornelius Gurlitt, the octogenarian hoarder of art plundered by the Nazis, will return paintings in the trove his family kept secret for decades to their original Jewish owners or those owners’ descendants, starting with a well-known Matisse, his lawyers said this week.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are happy to see this huge trove of looted art returned to its rightful heirs.

Gurlitt’s lawyers are in talks to return “Seated Woman/Woman Sitting in Armchair” to the descendants of Paul Rosenberg, a French art dealer whose family recognized the work when it was made public last year.

“The agreement is not yet signed, but it will certainly happen,” Gurlitt’s spokesman, Stephan Holzinger, said.

Christoph Edel, a lawyer appointed by a Munich court to handleGurlitt’s health, financial and legal affairs, told the German broadcaster ARD that more deals were coming.

Gurlitt, 81, who has heart problems, underwent surgery recently and has been slow to recover, leading the court to appoint a legal guardian. “Mr. Gurlitt has given us free rein to return those pictures that belonged to Jews to their previous owners or their descendants,” Mr. Edel said.

The news that Gurlitt had hoarded hundreds of prints, drawings and paintings collected by his father, an art dealer who worked for the Nazis as they seized Europe’s treasures during World War II, set off international outrage when their existence was made public in November.

After pressure from Jewish groups, the United States and Israel, a team of international experts was formed to evaluate the 1,280 works in the collection, known as the Munich Art Trove.

Those works are in the possession of the German authorities who seized them from Gurlitt’s apartment in Munich, but the full extent of the collection is unknown. Experts sent last month to Gurlitt’s second home in Salzburg, Austria, found 60 more pieces.

Two more trips to the house turned up 178 works, Holzinger said on Wednesday. Among the 39 oil and watercolor paintings are works by some of the biggest names in modern art: Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Nolde and Liebermann.

Many of the paintings are in poor condition, having been kept in a house that sat unused and largely unheated for years. They have since been brought to a secure location where restoration experts are cataloguing them, Edel said in a statement.

The next step will be to examine the provenance of the works in the Salzburg collection, and any found to have been looted will be returned to their rightful owners, Edel said.