BERLIN – Bowing to pressure from Jewish groups and art experts, the German government made public details of paintings in a recovered trove of some 1,400 pieces of art, many of which may have been stolen by the Nazis, and said it will put together a task force to speed identification.
The government said in a written statement that about 590 of the pieces could have been stolen by the Nazis. In a surprise move, it quickly featured some 25 of those works on the website www.lostart.de and said it will be regularly updated.
Officials had released few details about the art found in the Munich flat of 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, though it was known to include pieces by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. The find resulted from an ongoing tax probe, adding to secrecy concerns.
Among the paintings listed on the site were Otto Dix’s “The Woman in the Theater Box,” Otto Griebel’s “Child at the Table,” and Max Liebermann’s “Rider on the Beach.”
Looted art was stolen or bought for a pittance from Jewish collectors who were forced to sell under duress during the Third Reich. For the heirs of those collectors, the discovery has raised hopes of recovering art, while the slow release of information has stirred frustration.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said earlier Monday that the government understands the demands of Jewish groups in particular that the pieces be quickly made public.
The new task force of six experts will be put together by the German government and the state government of Bavaria, with the support of a research group on “degenerate art” at the Free University of Berlin.
Such art was largely modern or abstract works that Adolf Hitler’s regime believed to be a corrupt influence on the German people. Many such works were later sold to enrich the Nazis. Some 380 art pieces could fall under the category, the government said.
The task force will work in “parallel” with the ongoing legal probe by prosecutors in Augsburg, the government said.