Cornelius Gurlitt, the art collector who hoarded works looted by the Nazis, has instructed his court-appointed adviser to hand back items looted from Jewish owners, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
“If there are works under justified suspicion of being stolen art, then please give them back to their Jewish owners,” Gurlitt instructed lawyer Christoph Edel, according to a statement by Gurlitt’s spokesman.
A catalog of suspected looted art from the collection kept by Gurlitt at his Munich apartment will be published shortly and a restitution program is being prepared in accordance with the Washington Principles that called for a just solution for victims of Nazi art plunder and their heirs, Edel said in the statement.
Only a small percentage of the collection owned by Gurlitt is suspected of having been stolen, he added.
“Sitzende Frau” (“Sitting Woman”) by Henri Matisse will be the first work to be handed over to the heirs of Paris-based art collector Paul Rosenberg, Bloomberg reported, citing the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. Gurlitt will return more paintings in the next weeks, the newspaper said.
Germany has been sharply criticized for its "scandalous" handling of the art finds, as news of the discovery was only made public last November through a news report. Following the criticism, Germany created a site to facilitate the return of the art by increasing access to images of the pieces.
In late January, World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder called on the German government to draft a new law to ease the process of returning the art.
Gurlitt has declared in the past that he “will not give anything back voluntarily."
In February, another 60 works of art were found in Gurlitt’s house in Salzburg, Austria. A preliminary assessment has found no evidence that the pieces in Austria were stolen or looted by the Nazis, Holzinger said at the time.
The Salzburg portion of Gurlitt’s collection is bigger than was initially apparent and contains 238 art objects, including 39 oil paintings, according to the statement released by Holzinger and quoted by Bloomberg.
Of the 39 paintings, seven are attributed landscape painter Louis Gurlitt, who died in 1897 and was the grandfather of Cornelius Gurlitt. Among the other paintings and watercolors are works by Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Eduard Manet, Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissaro, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Max Liebermann, Paul Cezanne and Emile Nolde, the statement said.