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Art hoard owner hits back

November 17, 2013

The 80-year-old owner of some 1,400 artworks, many of them believed to have been lost or stolen in the Nazi era, has given a defiant interview. Cornelius Gurlitt said his father had acquired the vast collection legally.

HANDOUT - Hans Christoph: «Paar», Aquarell, 1924. This is one of the 25 pieces now available for viewing at the lostart.de website. (Photo: Staatsanwaltschaft Augsburg/dpa)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Gurlitt im Spiegel: Ich will alle Werke zurück!

Cornelius Gurlitt told this week's edition of "Der Spiegel" news magazine that he had no intention of surrendering his vast collection of art, much of which is thought to have been stolen or looted in the Nazi era. He said that his father Hildebrand Gurlitt had acquired the roughly 1,400 pieces by legal means, and that he had submitted information proving this to public prosecutors.

"They are portraying all this in the wrong light," Gurlitt told Spiegel. "I will talk to them, and no, I will give nothing back voluntarily. The public prosecutor has enough that exonerates me."

Gurlitt also said that the prosecutors' office in Augsburg had not yet contacted him, despite him sending in documentation about his artworks.

Gurlitt is under investigation for possible tax fraud and embezzlement pertaining to his art collection including works by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Max Liebermann and others. The collection's value is thought to be around 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion).

The news magazine "Focus" has reported that prosecutors were hoping to convince Gurlitt to surrender some 590 pieces thought to have been stolen or looted by the Nazis. In return, Focus reported that officials might drop criminal investigations into Gurlitt.

'I have never committed a crime'

Spiegel said that its reporter had spent 72 hours with the reclusive 80-year-old man, who had previously said little since his art collection was discovered.

Gurlitt was critical of both the official and media attention he has received of late, saying "had I lived somewhere else, none of this would have happened." He also said that he had never committed a crime, or taken anything across the Swiss border illegally.

The collection was discovered in March 2012 during a routine tax inspection of Gurlitt's home. Twenty-five of the images thought to have been stolen were published on the www.lostart.de Internet platform earlier this week. Gurlitt also complained that the process was taking so long.

"Hopefully all this will now be cleared up quickly, so I can finally get my pictures back," he said, adding that they were the thing he loved most in his life. "They really could have just waited with these pictures until I was dead."

msh/pfd(AFP, dpa)