Art law Controversies Germany

Gurlitt art confiscation ends

German prosecutors release works but tax investigation and provenance research continues

The Augsburg public prosecutor's office has released the art collection seized from Cornelius Gurlitt. While the confiscation has ended, the investigation continues into his tax affairs

Two years ago, 1,280 works were seized by police from Gurlitt's Munich flat after a tax investigation. This year, 60 items were seized from his house in Salzburg, Austria. Many of the works could have been looted during the Second World War. The octogenarian inherited them from his father, Hildebrand, an art dealer whose business flourished selling so-called "degenerate art" during the Nazi era. The discovery of the long-hidden art sparked a world-wide restitution campaign. At the time of the seizure, the Augsburg public prosecutor's office was “convinced of the legality of the confiscation” it said in a press statement released today, 9 April. “But over the course of the investigation, new insights have arisen that have given us occasion to reevaluate the legal situation.”

Tido Park, Gurlitt's lawyer, said: “It's a good day for Cornelius Gurlitt.” Park says that today's decision will “strengthen [Gurlitt's] rehabilitation”. Two days ago, Gurlitt signed a deal with the German state agreeing to co-operate with a task force of provenance researchers investigating his collection.

The Augsburg public prosecutor's office stated today that the release of the works does not mean that the tax investigation is over.

Update: The task force investigating the provenance history of Gurlitt's collection has released a statement today, 9 April, saying that the works suspected of being Nazi loot will remain in the custody of the authorities, as per the deal signed by Gurlitt on Monday, so that research can continue.

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