German owner of stolen Jewish art dies at 81

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — The elderly recluse whose Munich apartment contained a secret hoard of Nazi-looted art masterpieces died following a heart operation.

Cornelius Gurlitt died Monday at the age of 81, a spokesperson told the AFP news agency.

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“Cornelius Gurlitt died yesterday (Monday) morning in his apartment in Schwabing, in the presence of a doctor,” the spokesperson, Stephan Holzinger said in a statement, referring to an upscale district of Munich.

German prosecutors seized 1,400 modernist works of art from Cornelius Gurlitt’s Munich apartment two years ago. The news only entered the public domain one year later, sending ripples through the art world.

Gurlitt had last month struck an accord with the German government to help track down the rightful owners of pieces in his trove of 1,280 artworks, including Jews whose property was stolen or extorted under the Third Reich.

Under the April accord, a government-appointed international task force of art experts will have one year to investigate the provenance of all the works in Gurlitt’s Munich collection.

Artworks subject to ownership claims after that deadline will be held by a trust until the cases are resolved. Reports by AFP and Reuters did not say how Gurlitt’s death may affect the agreement’s implementation or whether he had any legal heirs.

It has yet to be determined how many of the artworks were actually confiscated by the Nazis, according to Reuters, with about 600 works currently under investigation. Gurlitt was also being investigated for tax evasion.

Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, was a prominent art dealer permitted by the Nazis to sell so-called “degenerate art” confiscated from museums on the grounds that it was un-German or Jewish-Bolshevist in nature, Reuters reported.

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