The German art collector prominent during a probe into whether an art trove contains works looted during the Nazi era has died. His spokesman said Cornelius Gurlitt died in his Munich apartment after a heart operation.
The elderly German son of a Nazi-era art dealer who hoarded hundreds of priceless paintings in his Munich flat for decades has died age 81, his spokesman said Tuesday.
"Cornelius Gurlitt died yesterday morning in his apartment in Schwabing, in the presence of a doctor," the spokesman, Stephan Holzinger, said in a statement.
German prosecutors seized the art trove valued at $1 billion (718 million euros) in February 2012 as part of a tax investigation after Gurlitt aroused the suspicion of German customs officials.
Experts examining works
Since then, investigators have attempted to determine how many of the artworks in Gurlitt's collection were actually confiscated by the Nazis.
This allowed a task force of art experts to continue examining the works to establish their provenance and whether some may have been stolen or extorted from their original owners, many of them Jewish, durig the Nazi era.
Gurlitt's father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was one of four art dealers permitted by Adolf Hitler to buy and sell confiscated works - so-called 'degenerate art' - to fund Nazi activities.
The collection includes masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse (his work "Woman Sitting" is pictured above), Otto Dix and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
Germany criticized for silence
German authorities were criticized internationally -- especially by families whose relatives were robbed by the Nazis -- for keeping silent from early 2012 until the story broke last year.
In February, Gurlitt's lawyers filed a complaint at an Augsburg court, challenging the legality of the tax authority's seizure in 2012.
The collection was subsequently shifted to a secret depot in the Munich area so provenance experts could continue their examination of the art works.
Under the deal, Gurlitt was supposed after one year to receive back works found not to have been looted art.
ipj/mz (afp, dpa, Reuters)