2 Nazi-looted paintings from Gurlitt collection cleared for return to heirs

(JTA) — A German court formally authorized the return of two Nazi-looted artworks from the collection of the late art collector Cornelius Gurlitt.

The paintings, among the most valuable of the more than 1,400 artworks discovered in Gurlitt’s home in Munich and later in a second home in Salzburg, Austria, can be retrieved this week by the heirs of the Jewish owners from whom they were stolen, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday following the decision by the Munich District Court.

The court did not reveal the names of the owners of the artworks — Henri Matisse’s “Woman Sitting in an Armchair” and Max Liebermann’s “Two Riders on the Beach” — or the names of the heirs who will receive them, according to The Associated Press.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Libermann painting was stolen from David Friedmann, a German-Jewish collector who died in the early 1940s, and the Matisse was stolen in a Nazi raid on a bank vault in France belonging to Paul Rosenberg, a Jewish art dealer.

Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, was an art dealer on assignment to the Nazis. When Hildebrand Gurlitt died in 1956, his son inherited the collection, which includes works by Picasso, Durer, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Beckmann and Matisse. The Gurlitt collection, discovered in the course of an investigation for tax evasion, is worth an estimated $1.26 billion.

Last year, Gurlitt signed an agreement with the state of Bavaria and the German federal government in which the provenance of all works would be researched, paving the way for the return of the paintings to the heirs of the rightful owners. The work of the task force searching for possible rightful owners continued after Gurlitt died last May.

Gurlitt left his entire collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland. The museum accepted the collection and promised to participate in the process by which German authorities would attempt to return any looted works to their rightful owners.

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