"Degenerate Art" found in man's house.
November 4, 2013 7:32 AM   Subscribe

About 1,500 modernist masterpieces – thought to have been looted by the Nazis – have been confiscated from the flat of an 80-year-old man from Munich, in what is being described as the biggest artistic find of the postwar era.
posted by R. Mutt (125 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Degenerate Art
posted by R. Mutt at 7:33 AM on November 4, 2013


Man, the squabbling over this will make a lot of lawyers rich. I hope a reasonable chunk of it ends up in public collections eventually.
posted by yoink at 7:36 AM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Neil and Mozzy are going to be pissed.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:37 AM on November 4, 2013 [24 favorites]


if it ain't degenerate, it ain't art
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:39 AM on November 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Degenerate art
posted by R. Mutt


Eponysterical.
posted by cgs06 at 7:39 AM on November 4, 2013 [26 favorites]


Have there even been 1500 master modernist painters?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:41 AM on November 4, 2013


Anything that brings mor Beckmanns to light is a-ok with me.
posted by notsnot at 7:41 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's the Beckmann he sold after the police raided his flat.
posted by rory at 7:42 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Hey, you spilled orange juice all over my Matisse!"
posted by oceanjesse at 7:43 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sure wish there was a pictorial catalog of the trove. I guess since a lot of these were in the hands of art dealers, they'll be returned to the heirs of the painters? Sorting out where they all legally go is not going to be an easy task.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:46 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, this is good news. I agree with yoink and Devils Rancher - I hope the public gets to see these pieces too. I'll be interested to follow this case.
posted by daisyk at 7:52 AM on November 4, 2013


Artinfo just posted an article stating that 200 of the works have prior requests for return.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:52 AM on November 4, 2013


I guess he deserved it more than we do.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:53 AM on November 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Even if a lot of it is just going to end up back in the possession of descendants of the rightful owners eventually, it would be nice to show these pieces somewhere in the meantime rather than hide them in a warehouse.
posted by pracowity at 7:57 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm confused about the "cash check" that originally brought Gurlitt to the authorities attention.

I can see why 9,000 euros in 500 euro bills would be suspicious but why were they checking his cash in the first place?
posted by warm_planet at 7:59 AM on November 4, 2013


Sorting out where they all legally go is not going to be an easy task

No, but that's 1500 works that were for all intents thought lost. That's a win.

But, man, this is a can of worms. The value of all of these works has gone up dramatically since the war. It's very interesting to note that they've actually been in custody since 2011, and I'll bet this is one of the big reasons why.

The lawsuits about custody will be staggering. Just tracing who actually legally owns many of these is likely to be a nightmare. If 50% of them can be traced to the original owner or first descendant, it would be a miracle.

And, while I'd like to see these on public display, remember this: These belonged to people, and they were stolen from them. They, or their lawful heirs, have the rights to do with them what they see fit. They can keep them, sell them to private collectors or public museums, donate them -- it's *their* call, and their call alone. Attempting to put conditions on property stolen from them is wrong.
posted by eriko at 8:05 AM on November 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


Ja ja ja, mach schnell mit der art things, huh? I must get back to Dancecentrum in Struttgart in time to see Kraftwerk
posted by The Whelk at 8:05 AM on November 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm confused about the "cash check" that originally brought Gurlitt to the authorities attention.

I can see why 9,000 euros in 500 euro bills would be suspicious but why were they checking his cash in the first place?


Customs. He was crossing from Switzerland to Germany.
posted by Thing at 8:06 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can see why 9,000 euros in 500 euro bills would be suspicious but why were they checking his cash in the first place?

I know $10,000 USD in cash is a magic number -- you have to declare that you have it. €9,000 is worth more than that, anybody, offhand, know the declaration limit on Euros?
posted by eriko at 8:09 AM on November 4, 2013


One of the reasons why German customs may have been sitting on their find for such a long time is that they can expect a huge number of claims for restitution from around the world, with all the diplomatic difficulties that entails.

Hm. I am not impressed. I wonder how many of the elderly people who would have loved to see some justice in their lifetimes have died between then and now?
posted by ostro at 8:12 AM on November 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


The NSA has known about this for decades.
posted by mrhappy at 8:20 AM on November 4, 2013


There was an interview with an art market expert on the BBC this morning. He was asked whether, if these all appeared on the market at once, it would depress prices. Not at all, he said, the global market for fine art is so incredibly buoyant at the moment that they'd go gangbusters and there wouldn't be so much as a twitch in the market strength overall.

So much cash around at the moment. You seen any? No, me neither.
posted by Devonian at 8:35 AM on November 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


I don't know if many people here read German, but the original article in Focus.de links to user comments that ask a lot of... uncomfortable questions. How is it possible that a known art dealer under the Nazis could have amassed this collection without current authorities being aware of it at all? How did the son of a known Nazi art dealer manage to sell works known to be in this collection? Whose protection was he under, and doesn't this make the museum that verified the Beckmann painting's authenticity complicit in covering up this stash of Nazi treasure?

As the title of the article states, "This stinks to heaven".

http://www.focus.de/kultur/kunst/tid-34466/nazi-schatz-in-muenchen-entdeckt-das-stinkt-zum-himmel-hier-wird-ein-ganz-grosser-betrug-verschleiert_aid_1147616.html
posted by metameat at 8:39 AM on November 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


The NSA has known about this for decades.
Wasn't there like a Fringe episode about this?
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:41 AM on November 4, 2013


The original thefts were abhorrent and any surviving victims should have their property returned, but I'm not crazy about the idea of their grandchildren cashing in on this simply by virtue of having been born.
But I suppose somebody has to own them.
posted by rocket88 at 8:45 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The value of all of these works has gone up dramatically since the war. It's very interesting to note that they've actually been in custody since 2011, and I'll bet this is one of the big reasons why.


Yeah, I feel for Meike Hoffmann, the art historian who has been working on these-- I think it's uncharitable to suggest without other evidence that they're keeping them under wraps on purpose to keep them from heirs. Untangling provenance and even assigning titles and artists to some of these pieces has got to be very difficult, though I hope that the public unveiling means that known heirs will be notified soon.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:45 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Devonian: "There was an interview with an art market expert on the BBC this morning. He was asked whether, if these all appeared on the market at once, it would depress prices. Not at all, he said, the global market for fine art is so incredibly buoyant at the moment that they'd go gangbusters and there wouldn't be so much as a twitch in the market strength overall.

So much cash around at the moment. You seen any? No, me neither.
"

All that rebound in the stock market since the Great Recession, that didn't go into reducing unemployment... that money went somewhere. Not surprisingly, "somewhere" is into the bank accounts of the 1% - who are the prime fine art masterpiece market.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:46 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know $10,000 USD in cash is a magic number

Used to be until Elliott Spitzer worked to get that dropped to $2000 and then promptly got busted for soliciting prostitutes because of transactions above $2000! Just for reference 9000 euros is around 11000 CHF, so a 10000 CHF equivalent might have also been a trigger number.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:57 AM on November 4, 2013



Hmm...Nazi art collectors. Lost and now recovered Art.
Wondering how many van Meegerens are in there?
posted by vacapinta at 9:03 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


anybody, offhand, know the declaration limit on Euros?

It's ten thousand euros coming in or out of the EU (not just for declaring, how much you're allowed at all). Crossing between countries within the EU can be set by the country according to the European commission website, but google and my hazy memory of the airport last week indicates ten thousand is also the declaration limit coming into Germany although you're legally allowed to take more with you as long as you declare it.
posted by shelleycat at 9:16 AM on November 4, 2013


I just saw a fantastic show at the Kimbell in Fort Worth featuring masterpieces by artists from this period on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago. I hope we at least get a solid catalog of this work, if not a public exhibition.

And yeah, I wonder how this guy got away with it for so long and who protected him to make that possible. (And what the payoff was.)
posted by immlass at 9:17 AM on November 4, 2013


Found among the artworks: "Small idol or votive object. Gold. Believed to be South American. Possibly pre-Columbian. Artist unknown."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:33 AM on November 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


ooh, immlass, I am going to that show next month! Glad to hear it's as good as it looks.

I am thrilled at the idea of some thought-lost Klees being out there, I do hope they'll provide a list of the works/pictures soon.
posted by emjaybee at 9:40 AM on November 4, 2013


I'll assume that most MeFites are ok with a 50% inheritance tax on each of the items if they are returned to an heir of the former owner, since they're so valuable, and the heirs did nothing to earn them?
posted by blue_beetle at 9:41 AM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm skeptical that a random border crossing check would really have been the way he was caught. Switzerland isn't party to the Schengen Agreement so the border is technically policed, but in practice at the train crossings I've never seen any hint of anything other than the most perfunctory passport check. I wonder if someone tipped them off?

It's astonishing to me that a trove of 1500 looted artworks was found all in one place, by some little man who was still a child when the art was originally stolen. There's a fascinating story here about how he acquired and managed his horrible collection, I hope it comes out. There's also probably a nasty story of collusion with whomever he sold it through, those art dealers belong in jail.
posted by Nelson at 9:41 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, at least one painting belonged to french art dealer Paul Rosenberg, the grandfather of French political journalist and author (and, yes, DSK's ex wife) Anne Sinclair. She recently wrote a book on Rosenberg and his gallery after researching the family archives.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 9:47 AM on November 4, 2013


Grandchildren receiving their families' property back is exactly what should happen, along with any economic benefit from owning the art. That wealth was removed from their family and should be restored if possible - rebuilding after losing every possession and accumulated economic. value (and family members) is an immense blow to families, which has impacts lasting generations.

The ability of each piece to restore some of what was taken, and to potentially transform a family's situation, adds a wonderful layer of depth to their cultural significance. A gallery show with the families' stories, plus the impact of the restoration of their art, would be amazing.
posted by BigJen at 9:47 AM on November 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'll assume that most MeFites are ok with a 50% inheritance tax on each of the items if they are returned to an heir of the former owner, since they're so valuable, and the heirs did nothing to earn them?

Do you mean an actual 50% inheritance tax that would have been paid at the handing over of the estates had the original owners lived out their lives in the usual nongenocidal fashion? An actual extant tax that is somehow the same amount regardless of the country of origin of the former owners? Or is this an arbitrary amount assigned for hypothetical reasons?
posted by elizardbits at 9:51 AM on November 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Unfortunately, my old friend, is now so old that she can barely remember to get out of bed much less any details about the artwork she used to smuggle. I do wonder if these pieces were ever on her radar or if she ever had any connection to them.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:54 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The idea that title can't be gained or lost through theft is pretty core to any society that claims to honor the rule of law, I would say.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:57 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work with two curators of German art of this period, including the curator who presented a recreation of the infamous 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition in the early 1990s and who worked with the heirs of the Bloch-Bauer family to recover the five stolen Klimts from Austria in 2006. I've got emails in to both of them to see if they have any insight into specific works that might be in the trove.
posted by scody at 10:01 AM on November 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


any society that claims to honor the rule of law

Well, "claims to" is pretty broad. I mean North Korea claims to have a universal bill of rights. The various and sundry peasant revolutions of the 20th century claimed to have the right to seize the means of production and the land worked by the peasantry for evil landlords. Claiming to and actually doing it are two different spheres of existence!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:02 AM on November 4, 2013


Socialist revolutions are like ordering awesome christmas presents for your friends: by the time everything is under your control you are less sure about giving it away after all.
posted by elizardbits at 10:03 AM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Horace Rumpole: the sleight of hand is all in the precise definition of "theft".
posted by idiopath at 10:03 AM on November 4, 2013


It's perfectly possible to lose of gain possession of something through criminal action, and to have a legal system (effectively) condone that transfer by barring recovery, such as with statutes of limitations or the principle of laches. Though neither would apply here, the rule of law only works by effectively putting some kind of ground beneath possession. Else you could have a chaotic slew of case and counter case stretching back hundreds of years.
posted by Thing at 10:08 AM on November 4, 2013


If it's not asking too much, could we maybe avoid debating the nature of property rights in general and just stick to the specific case? I agree there are all kinds of interesting debates to be had about broader issues of art as luxury commodity and/or the inheritance of wealth in general, but using the aftermath of the Shoah as a stalking horse for those issues seems, to put it mildly, unlikely to result in a productive discussion.
posted by RogerB at 10:10 AM on November 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


confiscated from the flat of an 80-year-old man from Munich

As someone remarked above, this wasn't just any 80-year old man. Cornelius Gurlitt was the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, one of several German art dealers authorized by the Nazis to sell modern art abroad in exchange for the hard currency needed for the war effort. That much has been known for years. (See this piece and this one for more about Curt Valentin, another Nazi authorized dealer.) I mean, Herr Gurlitt's haus isn't exactly the last place I'd expect to find looted art.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:11 AM on November 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


I mean, Herr Gurlitt's haus isn't exactly the last place I'd expect to find looted art.

Yeah, you'd have thought that would have been the first place they'd have checked.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:13 AM on November 4, 2013


The single piece of work sold in 2011 actually had "H Gurlitt" on the back. It is somewhat of a wonder that this was not a red flag.
posted by Thing at 10:16 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, Herr Gurlitt's haus isn't exactly the last place I'd expect to find looted art.

The single piece of work sold in 2011 actually had "H Gurlitt" on the back. It is somewhat of a wonder that this was not a red flag.

This is the most disappointing episode of White Collar ever.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:18 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll assume that most MeFites are ok with a 50% inheritance tax on each of the items if they are returned to an heir of the former owner, since they're so valuable, and the heirs did nothing to earn them?

I don't think that the original owners or their heirs owe the German State one red pfennig for the return of property that was stolen by the German State.
posted by snottydick at 10:18 AM on November 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


I don't think that the original owners or their heirs owe the German State one red pfennig for the return of property that was stolen by the German State.

I assume they would be required to pay this tax in whatever country they currently reside. If that happens to be Germany then I guess it would go to the "German State", as you say, but you might also say it would go to the tax-funded programs and services that benefit the German citizens.
posted by rocket88 at 10:29 AM on November 4, 2013


You don't think that theft in the context of the attempted extermination of an entire race along with the financing of an international apocalypse would warrant some special circumstances that would result in NOT giving the German State one red cent of taxes? Why does the German State deserve any revenue from this?
posted by spicynuts at 10:35 AM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


> I'll assume that most MeFites are ok with a 50% inheritance tax on each of the items if they are returned to an heir of the former owner, since they're so valuable, and the heirs did nothing to earn them?

I have no idea how inheritance tax actually works in the real world, but a 50% tax seems reasonable to me as long as it's only assessed immediately on inherited cash. If you inherit a valuable thing from a relative, I think you should be able to defer the tax until such time as you sell it or otherwise convert it to cash. It would strike me as unfair to tax someone half the value of a painting they just inherited if all they want to do is hang it in a hallway.

That said, a quick glance reveals that inheritance tax and estate tax are implemented with a number of exemptions and caveats. Most jurisdictions exempt spouses from paying the tax. Some assess a varying amount based on the degree of consanguinity of the heir. Some only collect the tax on estates worth more than a certain amount. I'm not sure that an unqualified hypothetical captures the complexity of the situation.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:40 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The ability of each piece to restore some of what was taken, and to potentially transform a family's situation, adds a wonderful layer of depth to their cultural significance. A gallery show with the families' stories, plus the impact of the restoration of their art, would be amazing.

I think it would be kind of cruel if the family weren't already well off.

Imagine if a really valuable painting that was unjustly looted from a relative who didn't survive the war were suddenly returned to you. It may be more burdensome than you might initially think: You'd never sell it, because of work's extreme sentimental value, but then again, you can't just hang it on your living room wall because it's an important piece of art history that needs to be properly preserved and it's also be a huge target for burglars.

About the only thing you could do is search high and low for a museum that's willing to take it on loan (most would probably rather you donate it outright) but apart from a few kudos in the art community, I doubt that would really transform your situation a whole lot.

In some ways, there should be a subsidy (perhaps paid out as reparations?) given to the families who can't afford to keep the works being returned to them.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:44 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's still so much artwork that was stolen during the war that's unaccounted for. I can't help but think that stories like this will become more common as the WWII generation continues to shrink. Thanks for the post!
posted by Arbac at 10:52 AM on November 4, 2013


You'd never sell it, because of work's extreme sentimental value

I think this is pretty unlikely. You would sell it. Sentimentality is a minor concern when we're talking a life-changing amount of money.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:05 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's still so much artwork that was stolen during the war that's unaccounted for.

A fair amount of it is has simply been destroyed. A number of works were placed on ships that were sunk, or in buildings that were bombed. A number of them were discovered and looted again by allied soldiers, despite orders. Objects made of precious metals were destroyed for bullion.

There's lots of stories about how artworks were snuck out of destroyed place X before X was destroyed and stored in cavern/mine Y. So far, we haven't found Y (though, arguably, this story is a case that we have found a Y!) In one famous case, the Amber Room, the bits we have found are easily explained by soldier who were moving the crates with the room decorations stealing a bit for themselves. In all likelihood, the Amber Room was destroyed when the Soviet captured Königsberg, some 80% of the city was destroyed. The crates were clearly noted to be in the city as the siege started and were unlikely to have escaped.
posted by eriko at 11:08 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's still so much artwork that was stolen during the war that's unaccounted for. I can't help but think that stories like this will become more common as the WWII generation continues to shrink. Thanks for the post!
posted by Arbac


I would imagine that this is partially intentional - some individuals/families/groups are probably keeping these hidden as long as possible to strengthen their legal claim and undercut any survivor's claims.
posted by rosswald at 11:09 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


A previous case of a Klimt painting - looted, then returned & sold by the family and now on exhibit.

Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a 1907 painting by Gustav Klimt....

The painting was appropriated by the Nazis, and its ownership was subsequently contested between the heirs of the original owners and the Austrian state, finally being settled by a panel of Austrian judges in favor of the family members. According to press reports, the work was later sold for US$135 million to Ronald Lauder for his Neue Galerie in New York City in June 2006, which made it at that time the most expensive painting for about 4 months.[2] It has been on display at the gallery since July 2006.

posted by R. Mutt at 11:13 AM on November 4, 2013


you might also say it would go to the tax-funded programs and services that benefit the German citizens.

Considering what has already been taken from these people and the mixed record of subsequent German governments in dispensing justice for these crimes, this seems to me to be a sacrifice that German society can afford.
posted by snottydick at 11:29 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm curious about the way that the works are described as "collection of hundreds of works confiscated by the Nazis or sold cheaply by people desperate to leave Germany."

Is there any precedent or general agreement about the legal position now of works that were technically sold rather than confiscated by the Nazis? If the original owners sold to a dealer (yes, a Nazi-approved dealer buying works that no one else wanted to touch at that point, and for miserably low prices) can it now be claimed that those were still legal sales?
posted by Azara at 11:32 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is there any precedent or general agreement about the legal position now of works that were technically sold rather than confiscated by the Nazis? If the original owners sold to a dealer (yes, a Nazi-approved dealer buying works that no one else wanted to touch at that point, and for miserably low prices) can it now be claimed that those were still legal sales?

This is exactly one of the reasons so many of these cases get caught up in courts (across Europe and internationally, depending on where the heirs eventually wound up) for years, even decades, and just one reason there's almost certainly no single one-size-fits-all answer for these 1500 works. My understanding is that some jurisdictions make distinctions between works that were confiscated directly from the original owners vs. works that were abandoned by the original owners vs. works that the owners were forced to sell.
posted by scody at 11:41 AM on November 4, 2013


Everybody who's saying that the heirs' claims are not as strong as the original owners' . . . if we did it that way, that would incentivize the hiding of artwork. Sure, many of the original owners died in the Holocaust, but many others survived and have died between then and now. If these works of art had been revealed immediately after the war, there would have been many more original owners still alive to return them to! So why didn't they? Because they were counting on people thinking what you're thinking now. Giving the art back to the heirs sends the message to other art-hoarders that doing this does not pay, so might as well give up now.
posted by ostro at 11:56 AM on November 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, you'd have thought that would have been the first place they'd have checked.

Seriously, how could you nazi that coming?

So, so sorry.
posted by chillmost at 12:33 PM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm astonished at the gross disrespect for private property on display here. I half expect some mad dog to break in and suggest that the government somehow has the right to take an arbitrary percentage of people's income, or something insane like that.
posted by Segundus at 12:38 PM on November 4, 2013


As long as the government doles out something sweet in return, I don't see a problem.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:50 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok, so how do we go about figuring out who the rightful heir is? I mean, wouldn't most of these people be dead by now? It isn't like there is a big record of paintings with images wide them and who owned them in 1936 somewhere, right? So how would you go about finding the people to return them to?
posted by Canageek at 12:52 PM on November 4, 2013


I just picked up the magazine yesterday (it's a crappy magazine, generally) because how could you pass up a story like this?.

It's such a crazy, slimy, creepy story. You have to try and wrap your brain around a person growing up with the stolen art-works of a generation of collectors who were, relatively shortly after the works changed hands, killed. So that he has literally an apartment filled of guilt and shame on an order of magnitude I, myself, cannot grasp but that I have to imagine must be absolutely mind-warping.

Seriously, it wasn't literally an apartment full of dead bodies but symbolically that's exactly what it was. Dead bodies your daddy put there.

The 'Focus' article kind of suggests it was the dogged work of the bureaucrat/s - because though Gurlitt lived openly in Munich, he wasn't registered (you register in the town you live in) - he didn't even have a tax number (a social security number (basically).
Which is to say, the dude was fishy as hell, and traveling with lots of fresh cash and looked nothing like Don Johnson.
Link to 'Focus' article. It's in German but you could Google-translate it and probably come pretty close.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:58 PM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ok, so how do we go about figuring out who the rightful heir is? I mean, wouldn't most of these people be dead by now? It isn't like there is a big record of paintings with images wide them and who owned them in 1936 somewhere, right? So how would you go about finding the people to return them to?
posted by Canageek at 12:52 PM on November 4 [+] [!]


When Germany 're-united' there was a mountain of 'returning' property to its rightful owners. I don't know what the actual number was, but I've heard lots of stories of people getting calls and grand-ma's house out in the sticks is suddenly their's 'again.'

That is to say, there is precedent for the gross mechanisms that are used to do this.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:01 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


A legal aside - under the ancient English law of Market overt it was possible to buy stolen goods and gain title with no comeback, at certain locations and at certain times.

Market ouvert was, of course, abolished.

In 1995.
posted by Devonian at 1:05 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ok, so how do we go about figuring out who the rightful heir is? I mean, wouldn't most of these people be dead by now?

According to the articles, an art historian, Meike Hoffmann, has been working on this for the past two years (the horde was discovered in 2011, just not made public till now). At least 200 are works that have already been listed as looted by potential heirs.

More broadly, provenance research is often a slow and painstaking process
Per the International Foundation for Art Research:
Provenance research can be challenging and varies with the artist, the period in which a work was executed, and the availability of surviving documentation on the interim collectors. In constructing the ownership history of a work of art, researchers consult archival materials including inventory records, correspondence, contracts, and sale receipts. Exhibition and sale catalogues are also very useful, and accessible, resources in conducting provenance research. A careful examination of the object itself is also invaluable— exhibition labels, inscriptions or stamps, and other marks from previous collectors, dealers, or auction houses are useful tools for determining ownership history. Often they provide the best clues to the work’s provenance.
Of course, that doesn't even include the process of tracking down heirs once the original ownership is established. And yes, since virtually all of the original owners are dead by now, that means tracking down children/grandchildren/nieces and nephews/etc. Different members of the same family may make competing claims, or have different expectations of what should ultimately happen to the artwork itself (i.e., returned to private hands vs. sold vs. donated).

Internationally, there was a surge of interest and resources being put toward provenance research and repatriation for Nazi-looted art in the 1990s, but that has waned significantly in the past 10-15 years -- see The Restitution Struggle: Malaise, Indifference, and Frustration, published just a few months ago.
posted by scody at 1:17 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh - missed the edit window - one of the articles linked from the Wiki entry above is from the Guardian in 2003 and covers the UK stolen art market in some detail.

Some of it makes for jaw-dropping reading. In fact, most of it does. The law may have changed in the ten years since this was published, but I don't recall hearing about that - so this is probably still the case:

The law declares that, six years after a transaction undertaken "in good faith", the possessor of even a stolen object obtains full legal ownership - after only three years in France. It is not that difficult to construct a "good faith" defence. Indeed, the pressure is on police to return the object to the new owner and in good condition or they can be sued. The original owners of stolen property have found themselves in the bizarre position of having to sue the new "legal owner" for restitution of it.

None of this relates directly to the hoard uncovered in Germany, of course, but it does indicate that common sense and basic legal concepts may be no good to us here...
posted by Devonian at 1:17 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not crazy about the idea of their grandchildren cashing in on this simply by virtue of having been born.

I find this a very strange thing to say. Had the art never been stolen over the dead bodies of their ancestors, the grandchildren would have inherited in the absolute normal scheme of things, and we (the gummint) would have no access to it under law whatsoever.

However, in this case, I would think it generous of the owners to allow the works to be open to the public for viewing as well as to art historians for study as a tribute to their deceased families for some limited time. Perhaps 2-3 years.

Most Degenerate art does nothing for me, but I can understand that this is a great find in terms of art development and is also of immense historical importance.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:40 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most Degenerate art does nothing for me

Maybe, you know, not using the Nazi phrase to describe it would be a good first step toward learning to appreciate modernism?
posted by RogerB at 1:52 PM on November 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


Had the art never been stolen over the dead bodies of their ancestors, the grandchildren would have inherited in the absolute normal scheme of things, and we (the gummint) would have no access to it under law whatsoever.

...and I'm not crazy about that, either. Allowing wealth to remain in a family across generations creates an aristocratic class. There's no perfect solution and in this case I'm inclined to side with the descendants given that nobody else has claim.
posted by rocket88 at 1:58 PM on November 4, 2013


Perhaps this specific case of art stolen by the Nazis is not the best time to make your stand about preventing children from inheriting property from their parents? Last I heard, most of the families whose property this was didn't really found a new class of European Aristocracy.
posted by Nelson at 2:05 PM on November 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


There's still so much artwork that was stolen during the war that's unaccounted for. I can't help but think that stories like this will become more common as the WWII generation continues to shrink.

Alas, I'm afraid that the stigma, never mind the legal aspects, will encourage destruction or just tossing the stuff. In the case of the Quindlenberg treasure, the German government wound up paying the heirs of the thief a "finders fee" for the return. (And the heirs were scummy enough to accept it.)

I'm not crazy about the idea of their grandchildren cashing in on this simply by virtue of having been born.


"Cashing in" is a pretty crass way of putting it. If not them, then who? I don't see that any other potential recipient would be any less arbitrary. (As a side issue - how un-valuable must a stolen artifact be before you are totally okay with it?)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:06 PM on November 4, 2013


How about if the grandchildren get to inherit the art IF they agree to spend one night in a creepy old mansion that may or may not be haunted?
posted by Hoopo at 2:27 PM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


As long as the government doles out something sweet in return, I don't see a problem.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:50 PM on November 4 [+] [!]


Eponysterical!
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 2:35 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps this specific case of art stolen by the Nazis is not the best time to make your stand about preventing children from inheriting property from their parents? Last I heard, most of the families whose property this was didn't really found a new class of European Aristocracy.

Which is why I'm not making that stand. I've said twice now that I'm okay with it in this case even though it goes against a general conviction of mine.
The one heir mentioned by name isn't exactly hurting for money, so that triggered my original comment. I regret that now.
posted by rocket88 at 2:36 PM on November 4, 2013


Most Degenerate art does nothing for me

Maybe, you know, not using the Nazi phrase to describe it would be a good first step toward learning to appreciate modernism?


Sorry, was referencing the title and forgot the scare quotes around the term. No disrespect intended.

As far as appreciating modernism, after art appreciation/art history classes what I can appreciate is the art progression that led to modernism and the forces driving that school, but the style simply doesn't resonate with me. I do believe it's a wonderful find for both the art world and in terms of historical interest. I also think these works should be restored to the families, if possible.

A gallery show with the families' stories, plus the impact of the restoration of their art, would be amazing.

Yes.

If not appreciating modernism makes me a philistine, so be it.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:41 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a 3D walkthrough (using Unity) of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst, the approved Nazi art gallery, as you might have seen it between 1937-44. It has clickable images for further info on just what kind of art was considered acceptable.

There's a whole room full of Hitler portraits. There are also pretty ladies, sentimental family scenes, cows and boats and bridges. Lifeless.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:49 PM on November 4, 2013


And then I turn the corner in this precious buttoned-up Nazi art museum and there's suddenly an explicit painting of Leda and the swan. What the Christ! You talk about degenerate!
posted by Countess Elena at 3:01 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is an interesting article and a very strange thread.

If your grandparents were robbed and killed, should the robbers be allowed to tax the goods when they are forced to return them? Makes no sense at all to me.

My great-grandparents and grandparents were lucky holocaust survivors, and also lucky in that gentile friends kept and protected their art-collection, parts of which I have inherited in a completely normal way (including paying some inheritance tax, not 50%). When my family bought the art, it was not very valuable. They were interested in art, and good at buying it (one piece I have was found in a dumpster!). At one point, my grandfather sold a painting his grandfather had bought, and was able to buy a farm for the money.

The prices modern art takes today were not there in 1945, or even in 1970. The collectors bought the art because they liked it, against mainstream opinions, and they would have loved to see their children and grandchildren inherit it, because they liked it. We all love our children, and we want to share the things we love with them. These collectors had radical tastes, but they were normal, real human beings who deserved to live as much as everyone, and who cared for their families as much as anyone.

The special thing about these collectors is that they were robbed, and in some instances killed. It doesn't change that they bought the art because they liked it, or that they would have loved for their children and grandchildren to have it. It is hardly their issue that the art has become very valuable. Or that their children, if they lived, grew up in a completely different world. Why should these children or grandchildren be specially taxed because their family were killed or forced to flee?

There is this weird point of view, underlying some comments here, but directly expressed to me even by friends, that since some descendants never knew their grandparents/uncles/aunts and have started new lives away from Germany and the occupied countries, they don't really have rights in the same sense as "normal" heirs. What? If your gran was raped and murdered before you were born, you aren't entitled to inherit her? It's not a point of view that would hold in any court of law.

There is one strange thing that occurs to me, though: because of the holocaust and its association with the concept of "degenerate art", traditional and monumental art became unacceptable after WW2, while "modern art" became the progressive, correct position. If Hitler hadn't had an opinion about art, maybe there would never have been such a broad acceptance of modern art, and it would never had gained value in the degree it did. It's just a thought, and I'm not certain it holds water, but it is ironical if I'm even a little right in this assumption.

(btw, my own stuff is traditional and not at all in this league. I'd hate if it were, because then I wouldn't be able to afford to keep it).
posted by mumimor at 3:03 PM on November 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


There has been a lot of work in the museum and archives world to build databases of art so that these sorts of things can be traced more easily. The Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal is one of them.
posted by PussKillian at 3:05 PM on November 4, 2013


> If your grandparents were robbed and killed, should the robbers be allowed to tax the goods when they are forced to return them? Makes no sense at all to me.

This is an interesting way of phrasing it, because it portrays the robbers and the taxers as one and the same. The "Germany" that refers to the Third Reich is, in my mind, completely different from the "Germany" that refers to the persent-day federal parliamentary republic. The fact that the latter Germany may assess taxes because of the former Germany's crimes… does not appear to me to create any sort of moral hazard.*

I am very far removed from this situation, so it makes complete sense that others may not see it this way. Statehood is strange. Weird things happen when we are asked to treat many-peopled systems as individuals.

* None of this comment is meant to provide an actual solution to the problem of inheritance tax on these works. There are half a dozen reasons why it may be a good idea to waive inheritance tax when these works are transferred to the heirs of their previous owners. I just don't see how any of them is "to prevent Germany profiting from its own crimes."
posted by savetheclocktower at 3:31 PM on November 4, 2013


Is there any precedent or general agreement about the legal position now of works that were technically sold rather than confiscated by the Nazis?

In general, doubt is given to the claimant, and it gets even more complicated than that.

This painting of a Berlin street scene by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was sold by a Jewish family living in Switzerland to a German collector in in 1937 for 3000 Reichmarks. This was a considerable sum of money, and it is generally considered to have been well over the reasonable market price for the time for that work.

After several later ownership changes, the work ended up in Berlin's Brücke Museum. They were sued with the assertion that the painting had been plundered. Their defense was the above. The courts asked "Can you prove the Jewish family was in fact paid?"

The museum, many owners past that transaction, did not have proof that the original owners had in fact been paid 3000RM. The painting was restituted to the heiress of the former owners, and it was auctioned off for $38.1 million. Two German politicians were then sued for being too willing to give the painting away, but that suit went nowhere.

One issue is that there were many Germans who would make token payments for artwork, to assert that it was "fairly" taken -- Hermann Goering being the most famous. This didn't seem to be the case here, 3000RM wasn't anywhere near token.

But it shows the complexities here. Can you imagine a Nazi registering a sale of an artwork for a non-trivial amount of money, and then simply not paying it and taking the artwork by force? Yeah, sure you can -- and so could this court. That's why they wanted some proof that payment actually happened.

And yet, as a buyer doing the research -- and the Brücke acquired this work in 1980, they were well aware and looking for the potential of the work being stolen from a Jewish owner -- would you have looked at that 1937 transaction? Hell yes you would have looked at it. It would have screamed "LOOK AT ME." And then you see the Jewish family is in Switzerland, and you see the recorded price, and the painting being delivered, and you consult with everyone else in the acquisition department. Surely, you think, this is not a stolen work?

The courts disagreed. Since the Brücke were holding the painting when they disagreed, they were the ones who lost it. It's hard to look at them and state, at any point, they did any wrong in acquiring the painting.
posted by eriko at 4:04 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


When my family bought the art, it was not very valuable. They were interested in art, and good at buying it (one piece I have was found in a dumpster!). At one point, my grandfather sold a painting his grandfather had bought, and was able to buy a farm for the money.

The prices modern art takes today were not there in 1945, or even in 1970. The collectors bought the art because they liked it, against mainstream opinions, and they would have loved to see their children and grandchildren inherit it, because they liked it.


This is an excellent point. Contrary to the assumption that often runs through threads like this, modern art has not always been considered highbrow/elitist, nor has it always been highly valuable. The art market of the 1910s/20s/30s was nothing like it is today, even for prized artists like Picasso, van Gogh, and Gauguin, so even the most important works from this period weren't worth all that much relative to the insanely inflated valuations of today. Most museums during this period weren't acquiring modern art for their collections, and the ones that did acquire it often faced criticism/constroversy for doing so. Additionally, while there certainly were wealthy patrons and collectors of modern art, plenty of collectors were simply fellow artists/writers/musicians (many of whom were not wealthy), or were middle-class or upper-middle-class people who had a taste for the avant-garde.

There is one strange thing that occurs to me, though: because of the holocaust and its association with the concept of "degenerate art", traditional and monumental art became unacceptable after WW2, while "modern art" became the progressive, correct position.

Absolutely. After WWII, modern art in general -- and abstraction in particular -- was very specifically seen as the artwork of freedom, progress, etc., to the point where the U.S. government officially promoted exhibitions of modern art in Germany during the occupation as part of their denazification cultural programs. It wasn't so much a response to the broader history of classical art in general, though, as it was an attempt to cut against the very specific formal style of art under the Third Reich: "Painting, at least as much as film, was conceived as a strategic element in the campaign to politically reeducate the German people for a new democratic internationalism. Modern art allowed the establishment of an easy continuity with the pre-Nazi modernist past, and it could serve as a springboard for the international projection of Germany as a new country interacting with its new Western partners." (See here.)

Further (and just as important), the promotion of modernism was also a cultural weapon against the Socialist Realism that had been enshrined as the only acceptable style in the Soviet Union under Stalin, which was especially important during this period in the run-up to the formal division of Germany into East and West in 1949.
posted by scody at 4:13 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, Herr Gurlitt's haus isn't exactly the last place I'd expect to find looted art.

It's always in the last place you look.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:35 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is an interesting way of phrasing it, because it portrays the robbers and the taxers as one and the same. The "Germany" that refers to the Third Reich is, in my mind, completely different from the "Germany" that refers to the persent-day federal parliamentary republic. The fact that the latter Germany may assess taxes because of the former Germany's crimes… does not appear to me to create any sort of moral hazard.*

I can't respond to this without being excessively profane or belligerent. I am going to take a walk away from this computer. I would like to encourage others to respond to this more rationally.
posted by newdaddy at 4:59 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The single piece of work sold in 2011 actually had "H Gurlitt" on the back. is somewhat of a wonder that this was not a red flag.

Perhaps the investigators were thrown off by the additional white and black.
posted by zippy at 7:47 PM on November 4, 2013


As more infromation has come out, it seems relevant that a large portion of the cache may in fact have legitimate or at least strictly legal provenance -- either as sales of degenerate art from German museums who were purging their holdings, or as collected works intended for the Fuhrermuseum in Linz that was never built. In which case the art is the legitimate patrimony of the German people today.
posted by dhartung at 1:34 AM on November 5, 2013


Its only theft if its NOT performed by the government. - I think its strange the way people keep saying they were stolen. They were confiscated by the then governing body in Germany - They were hence legally confiscated.

Dictatorial asset stripping for war funds is generally seen as quite legal within a sovereign state. Its strange that we think these calls for a return of confiscated art works to wealthy patrons is somehow more legitimate than the call for the return of the wealth of entire nations from the western countries and western companies that have profited from dodgy deals with say African Dictators like Mugabe.

Until the commons of the commoners are returned I don't think we should worry about these confiscated assets of the rich.
posted by mary8nne at 2:54 AM on November 5, 2013


... I don't think we should worry about these confiscated assets of the rich.

No, I don't agree. Firstly you can't say the original owners of these works were 'the rich.' As has been mentioned upthread, the art market today is not the art market of 1930.

Second, because Mugabe did some fucked up shit which has not yet been rectified, does not mean we should ignore this instance, when it is potentially rectifiable.

…the then governing body in Germany… is a key distinction. That body is currently considered an illegitimate Government, and the break between the current German State and that one is (intended to be) as complete as possible. So, the assets of that state are now under the control of this new one - and however those assets were arrived at, their disbursement (or not) today is a question for the current government to tackle.

And:
In which case the art is the legitimate patrimony of the German people today.
I think eriko's point upthread illustrates the difficulty really succinctly. Is the 'legitimate patrimony' really 'legitimate' or only on the surface, and how to substantiate one from the other.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:19 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Firstly you can't say the original owners of these works were 'the rich.'

Well its pretty unlikely they were the "working class" who are not exactly renown for their patronage of the arts. Whilst today the art market is strictly the domain of the filthy rich, in the past I expect it was still strictly the domain of the moderately rich. The upper middle classes and above.

In any case it has always been a domain of the minority.
posted by mary8nne at 4:05 AM on November 5, 2013


More details -NYT
posted by R. Mutt at 4:47 AM on November 5, 2013


There is, however, little doubt that at least some of the art discovered was part of an exhibit of what the Nazis termed “degenerate” art and which they put on show from 1937 to 1941 throughout Germany. Other works were probably among those that collectors – often Jews looking to flee the Third Reich – were forced to sell for rock-bottom prices in order to leave, Ms. Hoffmann said.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:49 AM on November 5, 2013


They were confiscated by the then governing body in Germany - They were hence legally confiscated.

Jews were denied the right to own property and businesses, in order to survive and/or escape they were forced to sell off disposable property to the only licenced person in the reich who could purchase "degenerate art". This person ripped them off and bought the paintings for a fraction of the value. Later the remaining jews were rounded up and forced into ghettos and concentration camps, leaving anything they could not cart or carry behind, including what remaining works of art were in their homes. These works went to, yes, the only collecter licenced to obtain "degenerate art" in the reich.

So "confiscated by the then governing body" is even a stretch, but be that as it may, at no point was their a legitimate procurement of these works. The laws governing property ownership by jews was illigitimate (as judged by the Nuremburg trials), the extortionist fraudulent sale of any works was illigitimate, and the straight out theft of the works left after the owners were liquidated was completely illigitimate. Even if he "bought" the paintings with a bill of sale and everything, the cause of the sale was illigitimate and therefore they were obtained under illigitimate means. You do not get to hand your stolen property down to your heirs and there is no statute of limitation on crimes against humanity.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:04 AM on November 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


Even if he "bought" the paintings with a bill of sale and everything, the cause of the sale was illigitimate and therefore they were obtained under illigitimate means.

Exactly.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:14 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, my old friend, is now so old that she can barely remember to get out of bed much less any details about the artwork she used to smuggle. I do wonder if these pieces were ever on her radar or if she ever had any connection to them.

Incidentally, I should add, that my understanding of the impetus of Madame Feldman's mission was to preserve the artworks from the Nazis whom the Allies/OSS believed were going to destroy the works. I do not know if she smuggled works obtained by Gurlitt. I'd like to believe that she acted as an alternative to Gurlitt and the state sanctioned theft, putting hard currency into the hands of people judged degenerate by the Nazis. I do know that many of her contacts were in resistance movements and that she also smuggled IN things like explosive detonators*. As her contacts were in the underground, I would assume the people she bought art from were as well, or at least were operating outside of the state-sanctioned art market, otherwise she would have been more free to simply purchase the works and walk them back into Switzerland.

*One awesome story she told was that the resistance could get explosives easily by stealing munitions and carefully scooping out the contents, but reliable detonators were hard to come by and fabricate. Among her things she smuggled in to trade were (Cuban?) cigars, which were highly valued and extremely hard to get. The OSS replaced the bottom layer of cigars with fakes containing blasting caps wrapped in the leaf wrapper and then covered with a top row of more real cigars. As was custom she often bribed her border guard contacts with a couple of cigars on her way in and out. The blasting caps were volitile and she had to take extra precaution not to jostle the boxes. When she got to one of the usual checkpoints, her guard came into the train car wanting his usual cigar. He looked at the boxes and saw the larger ones, ironically "Churchills" as she recalled, containing the detonators. She couldn't refuse so she opened the box and he scooped out a couple. He put them in his pocket, thanked her and patted them with a big smile. On her return trip he was still pleased with her, but said that the tobacco had gone a little off. She joked that the tobacco would have REALLY gone off if he'd have picked a different one and tried to light it!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:31 AM on November 5, 2013


I don't think we should worry about these confiscated assets of the rich.

It's not "assets of the rich", it's assets stolen from Jewish citizens of Germany by the Nazis. Surely you're not deliberately evoking the offensive idea that German Jews were rich moneygrubbers who deserved what they got? Because it sounds dangerously close to that argument and it's painful to read. I try to assume the best intentions on Metafilter, but like newdaddy says it's been a bit of a struggle in this thread.

To the more general question of what makes a sale to the state a legal sale, obviously that's complicated and depends entirely on the specifics. But I think in the particular question of Nazi Germany and post-war reconciliation there's a whole lot of very specific and carefully worked out precedent. I'd be fascinated to read a detailed treatment of the legal issues if someone knows of one. I'm also curious about how reunified Germany handles properties seized by the DDR.

I just got back from a visit to Germany, Berlin in particular. One thing that struck me was how sincere and thorough the effort is to document and reconcile the Nazi abuses. The Topography of Terror museum in particular is worth a special visit. Stories like this art find are becoming increasingly rare but it's still essential that the German government deal with them properly.
posted by Nelson at 8:26 AM on November 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


I try to assume the best intentions on Metafilter, but like newdaddy says it's been a bit of a struggle in this thread.

Just wanted to echo this sentiment for the record. I've been seriously biting my tongue at the ridiculous and offensive shit people are blithely chiming in with here. There are comments in this thread ranging from just plain wrongheaded poor taste all the way to flirting with justifying Nazi war crimes (and/or the Nazi view of art!), despite that presumably being far from their authors' intentions. I've typed out a lot of quite angry replies and deleted them without posting in the interest of civility here, and indeed I told myself I wasn't going to comment again — but perhaps it's helpful for the tone-deaf to hear from a few people, anyhow, how poisonous it is to treat real historical expropriation and mass murder as if they were matters for sophomoric abstract first-principles legal debate.
posted by RogerB at 11:07 AM on November 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think we should worry about these confiscated assets of the rich.

It's not "assets of the rich", it's assets stolen from Jewish citizens of Germany by the Nazis. Surely you're not deliberately evoking the offensive idea that German Jews were rich moneygrubbers who deserved what they got? Because it sounds dangerously close to that argument and it's painful to read.


I have been trying to give people the benefit of the doubt on many of these statements - most people have been assuming these paintings cost/were-worth as much in the 30s and 40s as they do now, hence the assumption of the former owners being wealthy.

But yes, this thread has been a bit... off-putting. Overall though I am grateful to the poster and the comments here for the insights.
posted by rosswald at 11:26 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am also finding this hard to read. Do people know how many Holocaust survivors are still living below the poverty line? The trauma plus secondary consequences of losing their families and entire extended communities, the displacement sometimes across multiple countries and new languages, the incredibly sad stigma that persisted for too long, not to mention the often strained relationships with their own surviving or post-Shoah children (again, trauma).

Yes, the particular families that owned these pieces may have been better off than many. But I have no issue at all with any art with doubtful provenance being used to fund basic welfare and social services and even outright cash compensation for survivors and their descendants living in poverty.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:44 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've been stunned by some of the responses in this thread, too. I mean, the wealthy, parasitic Jew who deserves to have their assets liberated by the government in the interests of decent, hardworking volk was actually a major trope of Nazi propaganda. I hardly expect to read echoes of it here, evidently proffered in all sincerity.
posted by scody at 11:45 AM on November 5, 2013 [17 favorites]


I've chalked up the comments I don't get at all as being a result of how sometimes what we mean to write and what we actually do write don't come off the same or something because fuck if I get what the hell people think they are actually saying but there's no way it can really be _that_...
posted by From Bklyn at 1:16 PM on November 5, 2013


Is there something that keeps the works from being displayed in museums while searching for owner heirs, basically being on loan from the investigators temporary custody?
posted by WeekendJen at 1:33 PM on November 5, 2013


Is there something that keeps the works from being displayed in museums while searching for owner heirs, basically being on loan from the investigators temporary custody?

Aside from the challenges in making space for 1500 hundred objects -- which would require significant space, given that an exhibition of 200-300 objects is generally considered quite large -- my guess is that there are many conservation/condition issues that have to be addressed first. I believe that Meike Hoffmann has said that the works are, by and large, in generally good condition but are quite dirty and will require careful cleaning, which will require not-insignificant amounts of manpower and time. (It's not clear to me if there has been any conservation work going on in secret for the past 2 years as well, or if the works have remained in much the same condition as they were found while Hoffmann has been researching the trove.)

Also, when it comes to determining maker or owner, the physical object itself can offer essential clues (e.g., examining the materials or underpainting of a work to determine its maker, or examining any tags, marks, etc. on the back of a painting that might give a clue to its provenance), in which case researchers would be reluctant to put it on display just yet.

None of which is to say that some/many/all of these works might not be exhibited publicly at some point (god knows, I certainly hope they are!), but rather that I imagine there are a lot of logistical barriers that would prevent it from happening any time very soon.
posted by scody at 1:51 PM on November 5, 2013


Also, institutions are usually pretty reluctant to display items with so obviously unclear titles of ownership. Just to start with, the insurance would be a nightmare. I'd be surprised if any museum chose to risk the legal or publicity fallout that might accompany an exhibit of these items right now.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:05 PM on November 5, 2013


MeFi's own?
posted by homunculus at 6:07 PM on November 5, 2013


Mary8nne wrote: Its only theft if its NOT performed by the government.

It was in fact the German leadership's actions that discredited what has become known as the Nuremberg defense ("I was only following orders"). The plunder of civilian property was specifically enumerated among the war crimes for which they were prosecuted.

The era in which sovereign states could not do anything wrong passed a long time ago. It is practically difficult to prosecute them against their wishes, but the possession of private property is internationally regarded to be a universal human right; and arbitrary deprivation of property is therefore a wrong.

I can't believe I had to say this.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:33 PM on November 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


The Nuremberg principles read like nonsense... or rather rules that are selectively ignored whenever the USA / UK wants to intervene in various warlike activities.

Also I think there are very real issues with applying these sort of international laws retro-actively they were written AFTER WWII.
(or even applying them at all really - when I don't have any choice whether to submit to them).
posted by mary8nne at 1:11 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't a clue what you're on about.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:41 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Has this been linked yet?

Some of Gurlitt's art was briefly confiscated by the US after WWII and then returned.
posted by Thing at 7:26 AM on November 6, 2013


Eventually these will come on the market. Impossible to know for sure, but I wonder if that fact has anything to do with the disappointing sales two days after this news came out.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:27 AM on November 6, 2013


Degenerate art: Why Hitler hated modernism
posted by homunculus at 11:49 AM on November 6, 2013


Here's a 3D walkthrough (using Unity) of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst, the approved Nazi art gallery, as you might have seen it between 1937-44.

I feel like I've seen this before.
posted by snottydick at 7:33 AM on November 7, 2013


octobersurprise: "I haven't a clue what you're on about."

IF you're referring to mary8nne's post (it isn't clear what confuses you), I assume she's referring to the various ways the US has knowingly replicated some of the war crimes that the US punished Nazi leaders for doing.

Such as:
* wounded and sick soldiers who are out of the battle should be humanely treated, and in particular should not be killed, injured, or tortured... "This article is the keystone of the treaty, and defines the principles from which most of the rest the treaty is derived" (vs. US secret prisons and torture)
* the protection of civilians providing aid to the wounded, (US drone "double-tap" policy, which preferentially kills first-responders and civilians aiding the wounded)
* parties to the conflict should record the identity of the dead and wounded, and transmit this information to the opposing (no record of the US attempting this)
* the International Red Cross "or any other impartial humanitarian organization" to provide protection and relief of wounded and sick soldiers, as well as medical and religious personnel. (vs how Guantanemo was originally run)
posted by IAmBroom at 10:32 AM on November 8, 2013


A useful perspective:

The works on display were meant to show the German people that they had been “Jewified”—contaminated by a mobile, contagious Jewish spirit that had polluted their thinking, their perceptions, their political and cultural institutions—and that the Nazi regime had saved them from this Jewification. The Nazis did not destroy these works of art, because they did not believe the art presented a mortal threat to the integrity and strength of the German Volk. If they had, they would not have exhibited it to millions of Germans in the first place.
posted by rory at 5:36 AM on November 13, 2013


(it isn't clear what confuses you)

Sub-literate prose and the relevance of whatever breach of the Nuremberg principles the US may be guilty of to the facts of this particular case. That's what confused me.

Christopher Knight (the art critic, not the Brady) wrote a piece on the Munich trove I read last weekend.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:10 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Mystery of the Munich Nazi Art Trove: The world has been captivated by the discovery of more than 1,400 works of art in a Munich apartment, among them many lost masterpieces stolen by the Nazis. The mystery surrounding the paintings reveals much about the great tragedies of the 20th century -- and Germany's attempt to grapple with its past.
posted by homunculus at 9:37 PM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Art Theft: The Last Unsolved Nazi Crime: "As Germany unearths troves of artwork seized by the Nazis during World War II, murky restitution laws make it difficult to repay an egregious debt to art collectors' families."
posted by scody at 9:01 AM on November 18, 2013


That Atlantic article shows what a freaking mess Germany has on its hands: On the one hand, legally many of the statutes of limitations have lapsed; on the other the moral position is clear as can be.

The thing that is hard to wrap the old noggin' around is 'how the authorities could do nothing' - but it's pretty well articulated here: "The investigation takes priority, I can't speculate who might be the owner of some random objects," German prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz... which might sound hard until you stop for a second and consider that he was/is not looking for stolen or looted art but for tax avoidance. So focused on the one potential crime he issued the bigger one.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:01 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interview with a Phantom: Cornelius Gurlitt Shares His Secrets: "He spoke to his paintings. They were his friends, the loyal companions that didn't exist in his real life. He considered it is his life's mission to protect his father's treasure, and over the decades he lost touch with reality."
posted by scody at 10:32 AM on November 21, 2013


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