Munich Find: Allies Briefly Confiscated Art after WWII

New details continue to emerge following the astounding discovery of more than 1,400 valuable paintings in a Munich apartment. Some of the works, including unknown masterpieces by Dix and Chagall, were reportedly confiscated by the Allies after World War II and then returned to the collector in 1950.

Some of the spectacular collection of paintings found by police in a Munich apartment appear to have been confiscated after the Second World War by Allied forces and returned five years later, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Wednesday. The newspaper based the finding on transcripts of interviews with the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, whose son Cornelius resides in the apartment where the paintings were discovered.

A list attached to one of these transcripts provides information about more than 100 pieces in Gurlitt's private collection, which was stored at the time at a United States collection point in the southwestern German town of Wiesbaden. The list included some of the paintings that were presented at a press conference in Augsburg on Tuesday, including a previously unknown self-portrait by Otto Dix, the painting "Two Riders on the Beach" by Max Liebermann and a painting by Marc Chagall.

According to the newspaper report, Hildebrand Gurlitt successfully lobbied the Allies to return the artworks. His private collection, minus two pieces, was allegedly returned to him in 1950.

Questions Remain

At the press conference in Augsburg on Thursday, authorities provided new details about the paintings, which were discovered by Munich police in 2012 and first brought to public attention by the German newsmagazine Focus over the weekend. Berlin art historian Meike Hoffmann also confirmed that the collection includes previously unknown masterpieces, such as the Dix and Chagall paintings, as well as other Modernist works that had been seized by the Nazis as part of their purge of "degenerate art" or sold on the cheap by owners desperate to flee Hitler's regime.

Many questions remain regarding the historic find. It's unclear to whom the paintings originally belonged or how they came into the possession of Hildebrand Gurlitt. Germany's Central Council of Jews is now demanding rapid investigation.

German authorities have also yet to explain why they kept last year's find secret. Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that it may be due to diplomatic and legal complications, especially claims for restitution from around the world.

chw -- with wires

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