Authorities in Munich revealed that a cache of works, many by artists the Nazis considered “degenerate,” was found in a moldy storeroom in the German city.
The hundreds of works were hoarded by an elderly man who sold some of them to cover everyday expenses.
Included among the 1,500 works, which reportedly are worth billions, are prints, etchings, engravings and paintings by such artists as Pablo Picasso, Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Paul Klee and Henri Matisse.
The works probably were confiscated by the Nazis as “degenerate” or stolen from Jewish owners, according to the Munich-based Focus magazine, which broke the story of the art cache.
“Now we need to quickly find out whether there are legitimate owners or heirs,” Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the Bild Zeitung newspaper. “Belated justice is better than none.”
Focus also reported that official searches had been underway for at least 200 of the works. An art historian is now tracing provenance and estimating values.
Reportedly, an art dealer identified as “Hildebrand G.” snapped up the works in the 1930s and 1940s. For 50 years his son, whose identity has been publicized as Cornelius Gurlitt, apparently hoarded the works in a dark storeroom in his Munich home on homemade shelves. They were found by customs officials investigating Gurlitt for tax evasion alongside rotting food and trash.
According to Focus, the customs investigators made the sensational discovery in the spring of 2011. The authorities kept mum while searching for more information.
The works are now safely stored in a customs warehouse. Focus reported that Gurlitt had sold some of the paintings over the years, even managing to auction off a Beckmann painting for more than $1 million after the customs raid. Investigators found empty frames and paperwork indicating sales that took place over the years.