BERLIN – Nearly 1,500 priceless paintings including works by Picasso and Matisse that were stolen by the Nazis have been discovered in an apartment in Munich, a news report said Sunday.
The German weekly Focus said police came upon the paintings during a 2011 search in an apartment belonging to the octogenarian son of art collector Hildebrand Gurlitt, who had bought them during the 1930s and 1940s.
The search was carried out because the son, Cornelius Gurlitt, was under suspicion for tax evasion, Focus said.
The report said the works are thought to be worth around €1 billion ($1.3 billion) on today’s market. The artworks lay hidden amid old jam jars and junk in darkened rooms in Gurlitt’s apartment in the southern city for more than half a century, the paper said. Gurlitt, a recluse, sold a few over the course of the years and lived off the proceeds, the paper reported.
His father, despite having a Jewish grandmother, had become indispensable to officials in the Third Reich because of his art expertise and his vast network of contacts.
Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, put Gurlitt in charge of exporting the art, which the Nazi party considered “degenerate.” The collection included many of the great masters of the 20th century, among them the German painters Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Max Beckmann and Max Liebermann.
Among the paintings discovered was one by Henri Matisse that had belonged to the Jewish collector Paul Rosenberg.
Rosenberg, who fled Paris leaving his collection behind, was the grandfather of Anne Sinclair, the ex-wife of disgraced former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
The paintings are stored safely in a customs warehouse outside Munich, Focus said. The Nazis massively plundered artworks in Germany and across Europe before and during World War II, confiscating many from Jews or forcing them to sell their works at a low price.