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Nazi artwork haul recovered

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 12:16 a.m.
AFP/Getty Images
The customs office in Garching, southern Germany is being used to store nearly 1,500 paintings by artists including Picasso and Matisse that were stolen by the Nazis. AFP | Getty Images

MUNICH — A huge collection of artwork confiscated by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s has been found in a house in Germany, according to reports.

The haul of 1,500 pieces is believed to include works by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall and be valued at about $1.4 billion, the weekly news magazine Focus said.

It is thought they were either stolen from Jewish art collectors or sold under duress for a pittance during the Nazis' reign.

Police made the discovery when they raided a house in Munich belonging to the reclusive, octogenarian son of an art dealer suspected of tax evasion.

Investigators say there are international warrants active for about 200 of the paintings.

The paintings spent nearly half a century hidden in darkened rooms in the man's apartment.

Police say the owner of the house sold the paintings one at a time when he needed money.

The collection included many of the great masters of the 20th century, among them the German painters Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Max Beckmann and Max Liebermann.

Among the paintings was one by Matisse that had belonged to the Jewish collector Paul Rosenberg.

The prosecutor in the southern city of Augsburg, who is reportedly handling the affair, declined to comment on the story, according to German press agency DPA.

The Nazis plundered artworks in Germany and across Europe before and during World War II, confiscating many from Jews or forcing them to sell their works at a low price.

Between 1940 and 1944, German forces seized an estimated 100,000 paintings, artworks, tapestries and antiques from the homes of Jews in France, stripped of their rights by racial laws enforced by the collaborationist government.

Thousands of stolen artworks have since been returned to their owners or their descendants, but many more have never resurfaced.

In 2007, a German expert published a book on looted art, estimating that thousands of masterpieces, and tens of thousands of lesser works, had yet to be returned to their rightful owners.

Only last week an investigation by Dutch museums revealed 139 of their artworks, including a Matisse and two Kandinsky paintings, may have been stolen by the Nazis.

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