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Trial for mass theft of Baselitz art starts in Munich

April 10, 2018

Three men stand accused of stealing and trying to sell works by the German artist Georg Baselitz. On the trial's first day, a suspect made a shocking revelation: One of the highly-valued artworks has been destroyed.

Baselitz stands in front of his portrait of a woman
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Gebert

The trial for the theft of artwork created by Georg Baselitz, worth millions, got underway on Tuesday in Munich with an admission from one of the accused: "I shredded it and spread over multiple trash dumpsters," the 26-year-old from Leverkusen said in the Munich Regional Court.

The work in question, "Akt Elke" (1976), a gouache on paper, was estimated to be worth around €45,000 ($55,600). It was one of around 15 other Baselitz pieces that had been stolen from a storage warehouse belonging to the world-famous artist in the town of Aschheim, near Munich. A statue from sculptor Tony Cragg and a picture by Christa Dichgans were also taken.

The value of all the stolen artwork is estimated at over €2.5 million.

Read more: Dresden museum replaces Baselitz paintings with provocative 'Euro' project

A gallery owner grows suspicious

The 26-year-old and his father are in court facing charges of handling stolen goods and fraud, while an individual from Düsseldorf has been accused of the theft itself. The man charged with theft admitted in court to stealing the work in order to get money for cocaine.

The massive theft took place between June 2015 and March 2016. However, it was only discovered when the father and son tried to sell a Baselitz painting to a gallery owner. The artwork made the owner suspicious, and he turned directly to Baselitz, who checked the inventory in his warehouse and subsequently uncovered the missing works.

Georg Baselitz turns 80

All the suspects were connected to the art freight company responsible for Baselitz's warehouse, while the father also dealt in art and tried to sell the stolen works.

Why the painting was destroyed

Multiple stolen works were discovered in the house of the father and son in Leverkusen, North Rhine-Westphalia, in early 2017.

The son shredded "Akt Elke" in an apparent attempt to cover up the family's actions. The other recovered works were taken into protection and in some cases, have already been freely returned.

Regional Bavarian broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk said that of the total 19 works stolen from Baselitz's warehouse, 17 had been returned, one had been destroyed and one more remained missing.

The trial in Munich will continue on April 18. A total of six court days will take place until April 26.

Read more: Germany passes law to keep art of 'national value' in the country

Still active at 80

Georg Baselitz is a German painter, sculptor and artists who became well known in the 1960s for his expressive paintings of figures that challenge traditional styles of representation. An artist of the post-WWII era, his works often deal with themes of destruction, bright colors and forceful brushstrokes. The artists' works are highly valued and exhibited around the world, and at 80 years old, he continues to create new art.

To discover more of Baselitz's work, check out the gallery at top.

DW author Cristina Burack.
Cristina Burack Editor and reporter focusing on culture, politics and history