In March 2012, German authorities discovered over 1,200 artworks, many of which are suspected of having been looted by the Nazis, in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of Nazi-associated art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt.
However, the discovery was not made public until a German magazine broke the story in November 2013. About 250 additional works were subsequently found in two additional Gurlitt family residences in Austria. Artworks that potentially have a suspicious Nazi-era provenance are listed on the German Lost Art website. This includes 464 objects of the Munich art trove, 33 estate objects, as well as one other item (“Suitcase finding”).
In November 2013, the German Government founded the Schwabing Art Trove Task Force (Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund) under the leadership of Dr. Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel. The Claims Conference was represented in the Taskforce by two art experts, Agnes Peresztegi and Sophie Lillie. In December 2015, the Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund concluded its work as planned and published its final report.
The final report includes a fact sheet (also available in English): Overall 1,258 artworks were part of Gurlitt’s collection, which included the 1,224 artworks seized in his apartment, as well as 34 artworks which were entrusted to the Taskforce after Gurlitt’s death. 507 were found not be Nazi-looted, while 499 artworks are possible Nazi looted art. Overall, the Taskforce received 200 inquiries: 4 claims were successfully resolved and the Nazi-looted loss was confirmed. In one other case, a Nazi-loss was confirmed without the receipt of an application. The final reports in these five cases are available on the website of the Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund. The Claims Conference’s Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR): Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume is cited in many of these cases.
In January 2016, the German Lost Art Foundation launched a new project entitled “Gurlitt Provenance Research” which aimed to continue the work of the Taskforce. As of 2021, the Gurlitt Provenance Research project completed the review of 1,039 artworks, including 724 so-called green, yellow, and red cases, as well as 42 additional cases that awaited further review. The remainder were artworks defined as “degenerate art” and thus the responsibility of the Kunstmuseum Bern, as well as artworks that belonged to the so-called family portfolio.
Of the 724 completed reviews, 4 artworks fell into the red category, 650 into the yellow category and 28 into the green category. The Gurlitt Provenance Research project classified red cases as works that are proven or highly likely to be Nazi-looted art, yellow cases as works with provenance gaps for the time period between 1933 and 1945, and green cases as works that are proven or highly likely not to be Nazi-looted art.
As of October 2021, 647 case reports are viewable on the German Lost Art Foundation website.
In December 2021, the Art Museum Bern published the “Gurlitt Estate Database“. The database provides information on 1,663 artworks falling into the following categories: books (4), objects (22), sculptures (37), crafts (67), paintings (134), drawings (611) and prints (788). The art objects are also searchable by provenance category: green (155), red (9), yellow-green (1,442), yellow-red (29) and post 1945 (26). More information can be found in the museum’s media release from 10 December 2021.
In 2020, the Claims Conference reviewed these results and found that 385 artworks were appropriately categorized as “yellow.” However, 155 artworks that were categorized as “yellow” should be reviewed again as most of these cases have one or more red flags referring to mentions of Nazi agents or art dealers who collaborated with the National Socialist regime.
The review also found that an additional 77 cases should be more appropriately categorized as “orange,” meaning that in these specific cases there are numerous red flags and prominent provenance gaps that suggest that they are between yellow and red. In particular, among the 77 cases are 54 in which a claim was filed. In other words, the Claims Conference believes that artworks with one or more red flags should be reviewed again.
The information concerning the results of the Gurlitt Provenance Research has appeared in different places. The Claims Conference/WJRO has therefore brought together all the online available information so as to allow searches for specific paintings with references in various websites.
For the listing of green cases, please see: https://art.claimscon.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Gurlitt-trove-green-online-resources-Oct.-2021.pdf
For the listing of yellow cases, please see: https://art.claimscon.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Gurlitt-trove-yellow-online-resources-Oct.-2021.pdf
For the listing of red cases, please see: https://art.claimscon.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Gurlitt-trove-red-online-resources-Oct.-2021.pdf
The Claims Conference/WJRO has compiled a statistical review of the research results by the Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund as well as by the Gurlitt Provenance Research Project as part of the German Lost Art Foundation. The graphs clearly exemplify that an organized and online accessible overview of all artworks that are part of the Gurlitt trove is still missing, including for artworks that are classified as “degenerate art” as well as for artworks with provenance gaps between 1933 and 1945.