Munich Art Trove Update: Cornelius Gurlitt Writes to Der Spiegel, Is Spotted in Munich

Following significant speculation regarding the whereabouts of alleged owner of the 1,406 works of art found in Munich last week, Cornelius Gurlitt has finally responded to the controversy. According to a report in Sunday’s edition of German news magazine Der Spiegel, Gurlitt sent them a letter asking that his family’s name no longer be mentioned in their publication. This first open overture to the public since Focus broke the story one week earlier suggests a wish for the Gurlitts to cease being connected to the Nazi regime, the magazine speculates.

Meanwhile, French publication Paris Match tracked down a man who they claim to be Gurlitt, publishing a photo of him in a Munich shopping center online on Saturday, with promise of a full investigation in the November 14 edition of their magazine. White haired and dressed in a overcoat and scarf, the man pictured appears to be going about his daily shopping routine, though the magazine describes him as fearful when approached for comment.

These fleeting glimpses of the individual behind a €1 billion art collection — which includes works by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Beckmann, and Dix among countless others — come as authorities begin to temper original claims that the trove is almost exclusively Nazi loot. According to the DPA, both Focus and Bild am Sontag, report in Sunday’s editions that customs authorities now believe that a number of the works found in the Munich-Schwabing apartment are legally Gurlitt’s, confirming a previous opinion by provenance expert, Uwe Harmann.

Germany’s outgoing minister of culture, Bernd Neumann, has also responded to widespread critique about the lack of transparency in the ongoing investigation and 18-month delay in announcing the find. Speaking to a DPA reporter on Sunday, Neumann said his office is in full collaboration with their Bavarian counterparts, most notably announcing that information about and photos of works potentially eligible for restitution would indeed be published online as soon as their investigation is complete.

Twenty two more works were uncovered in a town just outside of Stuttgart on Saturday, according to state of Baden-Wurtemburg. Though it remains unclear whether they are Gurlitt’s property and thus bring the overall total of found artworks within the investigation to 1,428, police are said to have moved the works to a secure location. Their search of the property in which the works were found was prompted by a caller who was concerned about their security. The police did not release that individual’s identity. However, Bild has since reported him as Nikolaus Frässle, Cornelius Gurlitt’s brother in law. Pictures published by Bild show newspaper-covered paintings of up to around four feet in dimension being loaded into a vehicle by plainclothes officers.

Alexander Forbes

Image: The house in Munich’s Schwabing district, Courtesy CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images Photo