Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cleaning Up the Gurlitt Art Mess

Cornelius Gurlitt has just stumbled out of the chaos created over his art collection.

To put you through the earlier history to this.....Mr Gurlitt is a German....who is advanced in his years.  His father had a great appreciation of art, and long before the Nazis came along....he bought and traded art pieces.  During the Nazi era, he came out on the positive side because so many Jewish families owned art, and needed quick cash to flee the country.  A sale....either by quick desires or regular a sale.  You can trash up the family name over this Nazi era....but it appears that little of the Gurlitt collection was stolen art.

After the war, Gurlitt's father will pass on, and leave the collection (hundreds of paintings and drawings) to his son.  No one knows of the vast collection.

Gurlitt will quietly live a hermit's lifestyle.  Occasionally, he will travel beyond Germany with a piece.....sell it for cash.....and retreat back to his home in Germany.  For decades, he survived this way, and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle....never paying taxes....because he had no income.

Around two years ago....coming back from a sales trip.....from across a border, Gurlitt will run into customs police on the train.  They will ask questions and demand to see his belongings.  Yeah, it sounds like Nazi Germany of the 1930s.....but the customs folks do this on a regular basis.  Gurlitt has a fair sum of money on himself, and it begs for questions.  They write the name down, and days later discover this odd circumstance....he hasn't any he hasn't paid any taxes. It has a bad smell to it.  Toss in almost no use of credit cards and cash-only mentality, and you've got a curious episode.

So they come with a search warrant and find the hundreds of paintings in the house.  These are regional customs they seize all of this in the name of German law.  But, there is this odd thing about German law.  When you suspect this to be Jewish has to go to a national holding house out of Berlin....not the state guys of Bavaria.  For some reason....the state guys really didn't want this attention, and it appears they wanted simply to seize the art....hold it a long while....then incorporate it into the state art collection.

Well...all of this stuff went on for a year or so.....then the news folks got ahold of the story.  The holdings went to the national office, and the state guys were left asking questions but getting nowhere.  Meanwhile....Gurlitt went to court, and triggered some hefty weight on the government's position.

This week, an odd event occurred.  The federal government of Germany has reached a conclusion and wrote an agreement with Mr Gurlitt.  He gets his entire collection back.  There is suspicion that three-percent of the collection....likely twenty paintings more or less...are Jewish property.  They put the rule into effect.....those paintings might be taken if a court rules as such. only have one year to get the court to settle this little ownership problem.  After's over completely.

Naturally, the Jewish folks are furious.  They suspect the bulk of the collection is unfairly held by Gurlitt.  Even if the Jewish family sold the paintings to his was a threat-sales, which in their unfair.  Everything ought to be returned.  But then, there's the issue that some purchases were done way before the Nazis ever came around to run Germany.

There's also some hostility by the Bavarian authorities.  They believe this affair is not ended, and that Gurlitt is unfairly holding a vast collection of art.  They won't cite the law affected by the event....but they aren't happy about the federal decision.

I suspect that the German court system quietly sat down with the customs folks and national authority and asked some stupid questions.  Most of the collection has a paper trail, and to suggest illegal wrong.  Adding to the mess....what started this was a tax collection issue....not a art ownership issue.

Presently, Gurlitt has one significant issue.  Taxes that are unpaid.  I'm guessing that a  state tax office in Bavaria is working maximum hours and trying to come to some number.....ever so precise in nature.  Penalty fees, and such.....will figure into this.  I would guess it's in excess of ten million Euro.  Gurlitt will react by selling enough paintings to cover the taxes owed, and then quietly grin as he walks away, with the bulk of his collection

Worthy of a movie production?  Yes.  When you toss in art, Nazis, secret sales, police, taxes, and've got a five-star script.

An event ended?  Well....there is one thing that I see as an issue.  Mr Gurlitt is a bit on the old side, and one has to wonder....who is the person that gets the collection next?  Would Gurlitt take the collection and leave hinder the German inheritance tax requirements?  Would the Jews follow Gurlitt?

As we say in's NOT OVER, until the fat lady sings.  

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