Unknown works by Matisse, Dix are in the Nazi-looted trove found in a Munich apartment, which includes works by some of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century.
AUGSBURG, GERMANY (NOVEMBER 5, 2013) (REUTERS) - Previously unknown paintings by Marc Chagall and Otto Dix are among a vast trove of Nazi-looted art found in a Munich apartment that includes works by some of the 20th century's most celebrated artists, German experts said on Tuesday (November 5).
Customs investigators seized the 1,400 artworks, dating from the 16th century to the modern period and by artists such as Canaletto, Courbet, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, last year, an official said.
While experts consider the works to be of huge artistic value, the task of returning them to their rightful owners could take many years and poses a huge legal and moral problem for German authorities.
The haul, found in the flat of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of a war-time art dealer, is one of the most significant discoveries of works looted by the Nazi regime and could be worth more than $1 billion, according to a German magazine.
Gurlitt has since vanished and authorities have not explained why it has taken them about a year to announce the massive find. The paintings, which were found in generally good condition, are being stored in an undisclosed location and they will not be published online.
The Nazis systematically plundered hundreds of thousands of art works from museums and individuals acrossEurope. Thousands of works are still missing.
Investigators chanced upon the art after Gurlitt, believed to be in his seventies, aroused their suspicions as he travelled by train between Zurich and Munich, carrying thousands of euros in cash, according to German media. He has since disappeared.
Jewish groups have urged that the origins of the art works be researched as quickly as possible, so that, if looted or extorted, they can be returned to their original owners.
For some families missing art constitutes the last personal effects of relatives murdered during the Holocaust.
Officials declined to comment on the value of the art. Germany's Focus magazine, which revealed the find and prompted authorities to go into the open, said it could be worth over 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion).
Cornelius's father Hildebrand Gurlitt was, from 1920, a specialist collector of the modern art of the early 20th century that the Nazis branded as un-German or "degenerate" and removed from show in state museums, or displayed simply to be mocked.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels recruited Gurlitt to sell the "degenerate art" abroad to try to earn cash for the state. Gurlitt bought some for himself and also independently bought art from desperate Jewish dealers forced to sell.