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Trove of looted Nazi art contains unknown modernist masterpieces

A hoard of Nazi-looted art found recently in Munich includes a number of unknown works by renowned painters of the 20th century, according to experts. The paintings are valued at around a billion euros.

The paintings included a previously unknown self-portrait by Otto Dix (pictured left) and another unregistered work by Marc Chagall, Berlin art historian Meike Hoffmann told journalists in the southern German city of Augsburg on Tuesday.

Hoffmann said the Chagall picture was of "particularly high art-historical value," adding that the work was probably painted in the mid-1920s.

She showed slides of the works, which also include paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Not all the art necessarily came from collections seized by the Nazis, according to Hoffmann.

Correcting an earlier media report, Hoffmann also said the paintings had only been discovered in 2012.

Private hoard

The discovery of the paintings was only revealed this week by a report in the German weekly Focus, which originally said the hoard was found in 2011 when customs officials raided the Munich apartment of 79-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a promiment Nazi-era art collector.

Watch video 01:46

Previously unknown masterpieces found in Munich

The Focus report said that Gurlitt used to sell a picture from the collection whenever he needed money.

The chief prosecutor in Augsburg, Reinhard Nemetz, said altogether 1,401 pictures - 121 framed and 1,285 unframed - had been found in the raid.

Nemetz said Gurlitt would likely face charges of tax evasion and embezzlement, adding that the investigation related to the discovery of the trove is "difficult, complex and time-consuming."

The heirs of Jewish art collectors have criticized German authorities for keeping news of the discovery secret for so long, and have called for transparency about the content of the collection.

tj/rc (dpa, AFP)

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