Today’s formal announcement by German officials of the discovery of some 1,500 works of art missing since World War II raised more questions than it provided answers. Authorities declined to produce an inventory of the paintings and works on paper found in the Munich residence of Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a former museum director turned art dealer with strong Nazi ties. The elder Gurlitt died in 1956; his son, now 81 years of age, apparently inherited these works of art.
In the course of our research since the news broke, we have discovered a number of relevant documents related to Hildebrand Gurlitt, including a receipt listing 163 works of art and objects returned to him on December 15, 1950 from the Wiesbaden Collecting Point. Some items on the list do appear to be his family property in as much as it included paintings by his grandfather. However, there are many works of art, some classified by the Nazis as “degenerate,” and others that were purchased in France during the war, which raise questions of rightful ownership. We believe some or all of the 163 items might be in the Cornelius Gurlitt collection, as evidenced by the presence on the receipt of a painting by Max Beckmann titled The Lion Tamer. This painting was sold by Cornelius Gurlitt in May 2012.
In May 1945, Monuments Man Robert Posey inspected Castle Aschbach, near Bamberg, Germany, and discovered Hildebrand Gurlitt and a senior Nazi art dealer in residence. Among the treasures stored inside the castle were art objects Gurlitt claimed as his personal property. The occupants were placed under house arrest; Posey declared the castle and its contents “Off Limits.” In the months that followed, those contents were transferred to the Wiesbaden Collecting Point, which housed works of art thought to belong to German nationals and museums.
During the next five years, the Monuments Men conducted numerous interrogations of Nazi art dealers, and investigations on objects of questionable ownership. According to U.S. National Archives records, Gurlitt positioned himself as a victim of the Nazis, citing both his Jewish heritage and dismissal by the Nazi Party as a museum director. Further, Gurlitt provided affidavits containing character references from third parties along with proof of ownership for the items he claimed. After a multi-year investigation, Monuments Officer Theodore Heinrich released custody of the property to Gurlitt on December 15, 1950.
While our research continues, we believe it is vitally important that the victims of Hitler and the Nazis’ looting have every possible opportunity to reclaim their property. Information is essential to aid in their search. For this reason we are posting both the 1950 receipt of 163 works of art and objects returned to Gurlitt, along with a receipt from January 25, 1951 for two additional paintings returned to him. We plan on posting more information as it becomes available.
Below are scans of the 1950 Gurlitt Return Receipt:
Below are scans of the 1951 Gurlitt Return Receipt: