The name plate on the house of Cornelius Gurl
The name plate on the house of Cornelius Gurl Reuters

A court handling the late art collector Cornelius Gurlitt's inheritance on Tuesday formally authorized the return of the first two paintings from his trove to their rightful owners' descendants, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The Munich district court said it approved the handover of Henri Matisse's "Woman Sitting in an Armchair" and Max Liebermann's "Two Riders on the Beach" after both potential heirs to Gurlitt's collection endorsed the move.

The court said it could not specify to whom the paintings would be released, and where, because of data protection laws.

In March, a lawyer representing the family trying to retrieve the Matisse painting said a deal had been signed with the German government for its restitution.

Gurlitt, who died in May last year, left behind a spectacular stash of art in his apartment in the southern German city of Munich.

The artworks were acquired by his powerful father Hildebrand, who was tasked by the Nazis with selling artwork stolen from Jewish families in the 1930s and 1940s.

Germany has been sharply criticized for its "scandalous" handling of the art findings, as news of the looted trove was only made public 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.

A Swiss museum that accepted Gurlitt's bequest of his collection and a cousin who challenged his will both promised to ensure any Nazi-looted pieces are returned to their Jewish owners' heirs, noted AP.