The German weekly magazine Focus with the story of re-discovered artworks stolen by the Nazis in Berlin on November 4, 2013. Nearly 1,500 priceless paintings including works by Picasso and Matisse that were stolen by the Nazis have been discovered in the flat, a news report said on November 3, 2013. The report said the works were thought to be worth around one billion euros ($1.3 billion dollars) on today's market. (Photo credit: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)
By Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
A $1.35 billion treasure trove of art works apparently looted by the Nazis - including pieces by Picasso, Matisse and Chagall - have been found stashed in a storage closet of a reclusive 80-year-old Munich man, the German magazine Focus reports.
The magazine says a Matisse painting found among the hidden items once belonged to French art dealer Paul Rosenberg, who represented Picasso and Matisse and other artists. He fled France in 1940.
The magazine says investigators have valued the works at about 1 billion euros, the equivalent of $1.35 billion.
Focus reports that the works, hidden behind cans of food and cartons of juice, were discovered by chance two years ago as a result of a probe by tax authorities of Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was an art collector and former museum director.
Gurlitt came to the attention of authorities in 2011 after customs officials, in a routine search during a train trip from Switzerland to Munich, found him carrying a large amount of cash in an envelope.
After further investigation, the magazine reports, police raided Gurlitt's squalid apartment in the Schwabing district of Munich in spring 2011 and discovered the cache of masterpieces.
Gurlitt is believed to have inherited the works from his father, but was careful only to sell pieces occasionally, when he needed money.
At least 300 paintings in the cache are believe to be among about 16,000 works declared by the Nazis to be "degenerate art." Other may have been sold quickly by Jewish owners fleeing Germany.
Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was half Jewish, reportedly was forced out of his museum job when Hitler came to power but was later commissioned by the Nazis to sell works abroad, which would explain his access to so many works of art.
One painting was sold at auction in 2011 for roughly $1.2 million in Cologne.
The Guardian says German authorities may have kept mum on their their discovery for the past two years because of the huge diplomatic and legal issues it raises regarding ownership and restitution.
British art historian Godfrey Barker tells the BBC that most of the works probably came from owners in France.
There are international warrants out for at least 200 of the works, Focus reports. The collection is being held in a secure warehouse in Munich for the time being, the BBC reports.