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German collector loved art trove

| Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 8:42 p.m.

BERLIN — The recluse German collector who kept a priceless trove of art, possibly including works stolen by the Nazis, hidden for a half century says he did so because he “loved” them. Now he wants them back.

Cornelius Gurlitt told German magazine Der Spiegel in an interview published on Sunday that he wanted to protect the collection built by his late father, Hildebrand, an art dealer commissioned by the Nazis to sell works that Adolf Hitler's regime wanted to get rid of.

Bavarian authorities suspect the elder Gurlitt may have acquired pictures taken from Jews by the Nazis — and this may lead to restitution claims by the original owners or their heirs.

In his first extensive interview since the case was revealed two weeks ago, Gurlitt told Der Spiegel that everybody needs something to love. “And I loved nothing more in life than my pictures,” the magazine quoted him as saying.

The death of his parents and sister were less painful to him than the loss of the 1,406 paintings, prints and drawings by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henry Matisse and Max Liebermann that authorities hauled out of his apartment last year, he told the magazine.

Der Spiegel said a reporter spent several days interviewing the collector while he traveled from his home in Munich to visit a doctor in another city last week.

Officials are investigating whether Gurlitt may have “misappropriated” the pictures or committed tax offenses in connection with them. However, a spokesman for Augsburg prosecutors, who are handling the case, said last week that Germany's 30-year statute of limitations may prove to be a stumbling block.

Hildebrand Gurlitt died in 1956, and his wife, Helene, died in 1967. Officials were unaware of their son's huge collection until a chance customs check three years ago led them to the Munich apartment.

Authorities in Bavaria and Berlin kept the find secret for more than a year and a half. But since the case was revealed by the German magazine Focus two weeks ago, they are under pressure to find a solution that will prevent legal obstacles from standing in the way of rightful claims to the art — particularly if Holocaust survivors or heirs of those persecuted by the Nazis are involved.

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