German collector to return 1st looted artwork

AP, Thursday 27 Mar 2014

Photo of the name plate on the house of art collector Cornelius Gurlitt in Salzburg. (Photo: Reuters
Photo of the name plate on the house of art collector Cornelius Gurlitt in Salzburg. (Photo: Reuters)

A recluse who hoarded a priceless art collection at his homes in Germany and Austria — including works possibly looted from Jewish owners by the Nazis — has for the first time agreed to hand back a piece of art, his representatives said Wednesday.

The unidentified artwork belonged to a trove of some 1,400 works that German police discovered at Cornelius Gurlitt's home in the Munich borough of Schwabing two years ago.

The announcement came as further works of art were discovered hidden at a house belonging to Gurlitt in Salzburg — a trove that Austrian television said included a long-lost painting by Claude Monet.

"We are about to return a work from the Schwabing portion of the collection that is justifiably suspected of being looted art," Christoph Edel, a court-appointed lawyer for the 81-year-old collector, said in a statement. "Discussions with other claimants have been constructive as well, and we expect to be returning additional works in the coming weeks."

Edel said he had been instructed by Gurlitt to return all works found to be Nazi-looted art back to their Jewish owners or heirs.

In a statement sent to The Associated Press late Wednesday, Gurlitt spokesman Stephan Holzinger said recent searches of the Salzburg property where some 60 works of art were previously found now revealed a total of 238 artworks there.

Austrian broadcaster ORF reported that the trove in Salzburg included a Monet painting estimated to be worth 10 million euros — nearly $14 million. Other works are by Edouard Manet, Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso.

German authorities kept the initial find in Munich — discovered as part of a tax case — secret for more than a year until it was publicized by a German magazine in November, prompting sharp criticism from Jewish groups. Since then, Germany has established an expert panel to review the art works and determine which of them might be legitimately claimed by former owners or their heirs.

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