A man accused of hoarding Nazi-looted art says he refuses to comply with German officials seeking to return the works to their original owners.
News of the $1 billion-plus trove of art found in a Munich apartment a few years ago first made headlines early this month. The story went that Munich officials found a collection of art—including works by Matisse and Chagall—hidden in the private residence of Cornelius Gurlitt, upon entering the apartment as part of a tax investigation.
Gurlitt, 80, was the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a now-deceased art collector. Authorities allege Hildebrand was a war profiteer that knowingly accumulated Nazi-looted art, with a majority of the pieces seized from Jewish owners.
Upon discovering the collection, which includes hundreds of works, authorities began the process of seeking out original owners or descendants of owners to return the pieces.
“I will not speak with them, and I won’t freely give anything back, no, no,” Gurlitt told the German weekly Der Spiegel in his first interview since the news was made public.
According to reports, officials aim to negotiate with Gurlitt for assistance in tracking down owners. For now, some of the pieces remain in the senior’s possession until they can be proven as looted, as per German law.
But Gurlitt said he would have none of it.
“When I’m dead they can do with them what they want…What kind of government are they to show my private property?”
“I’ve never loved anything more than my pictures in my life,” he said. “The pictures are somewhere in a basement now, and I am alone.”
“What do these people want from me? I’m actually rather quiet. I only wanted to live with my pictures.”
Gurlitt maintains his father was an art hero, who worked to save priceless pieces from Nazi hands. But government officials assert Hildebrand was well aware of where the art was coming from as he actively acquired the pieces.
The return of Nazi-looted art has become a growing enterprise in Europe, with institutions like Versailles coming under speculation over the origin of some of its most acclaimed works.