Recluse wants his 'friends' - Nazi-era artworks - back

By Bruno Waterfield

Handout photo made available by German prosecutors of Augsburg on the German Federal official website www.lostart.de. Photo / AFP
Handout photo made available by German prosecutors of Augsburg on the German Federal official website www.lostart.de. Photo / AFP

The German pensioner accused of hiding a vast Nazi-era collection of artwork in his Munich flat has publicly insisted that the paintings are his "private property" and he wants them back.

Cornelius Gurlitt defended his father's decision to purchase the works from the Nazis and Jewish art collectors, saying that otherwise they would have fallen into the hands of the advancing Russian army.

The reclusive 80-year-old told Der Spiegel magazine that he "loved nothing more in life than my pictures", before adding: "I want them back."

The magazine said he believed the paintings to be his only friends.

German officials began an investigation into the art collection after Gurlitt was subject to a routine customs search on a train to Switzerland in 2010, and was found to be carrying 9000 ($14,533) in cash. After a four-day search, the authorities took away 1406 works of art including paintings by Chagall, Dix, Beckmann, Picasso and Matisse.

Gurlitt is suspected of earning an undeclared living by selling selected works from the collection, many of which are believed to have been stolen from Jews or bought by his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, at rock bottom prices from Jewish collectors eager to escape Nazi Germany.

Gurlitt, who has been in hiding since the news broke two weeks ago, denied any wrongdoing or evasion of taxes or customs, insisting that he occasionally sold pictures to pay his medical bills.

Der Spiegel reported that he considered it his life's mission to protect his father's treasure, and that over the decades he lost touch with reality.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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