Nazi art stash in Munich largest of its kind, valued at $1.35 billion


State prosecutor Siegfried Nemetz and art historian Meike Hoffmann address the media regarding the seizure in 2011 of 1,500 paintings from Cornelius Gurlitt on November 5, 2013 in Augsburg, Germany. According to media reports that broke the story on October 3, Gurlitt's father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was an art dealer who oversaw the confiscations of what the Nazis termed 'degenerate art' in the 1930s and 1940s, mostly from Jewish collectors.


Johannes Simon

A massive collection of lost works of art found in a Munich basement has been valued at $1.35 billion.

The head prosecutor investigating the case said 121 framed and 1,285 unframed works from masters such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall were seized in the home Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a famed art dealer.

The works were seized during a raid on Gurlitt's home in 2011, when they were found behind cans of food and juice cartons.

At the time, Gurlitt was under investigation after being found with thousands of euros in cash on a train in Switzerland.

"When you stand before the works and see again these long-lost, missing works, that were believed destroyed, seeing them in quite good condition, it's an extraordinarily good feeling," said art historian Meike Hoffmann.

"The pictures are of exceptional quality, and have very special value for art experts. Many works were unknown until now."

German authorities have faced criticism since the stash was reported on Sunday for not making it public sooner.

Jonathan Petropoulos, author of The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany, was quoted by The New York Times saying it was "unconscionable" that German authorities "sat on the trove for two and a half years."

Investigators have not yet pressed charges, but said there was evidence that at least some of the works were looted by the Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s. Ownership of the works was still being investigated, according to prosecutors.

More from GlobalPost: $1 billion of art work stolen by Nazis found in Munich basement

Gurlitt likely inherited the pieces from his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt. 

Hildebrand, who was half Jewish, is believed to have lost his art museum job when the Nazis came to power. He was later hired by the Nazis to sell works abroad, allowing him to access famous works.

The Nazis seized about 16,000 works of art during their time in power.