New Yorker suing Munich collector for return of Nazi-looted art

BERLIN (JTA) — A New York man has gone to court for the return of several Nazi-looted artworks from the controversial collection of Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich.

David Toren, 88, whose father and uncle were art collectors in the prewar German city of Breslau, sued in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to demand the return of the 1901 paintings “Two Riders on the Beach” and “Basket Weavers” by the German-Jewish artist Max Liebermann.

Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, purchased the “Riders” painting in 1942 while working for the Nazis, according to news reports. Hildebrand Gurlitt had told postwar American military authorities that it had been in his family since before the Nazis came to power.

Documents show the painting was among those confiscated by the Nazis from Toren’s great-uncle David Friedmann in Breslau — today Wroclaw, Poland — in 1939. Toren, an attorney, is Friedmann’s only surviving heir. The Nazis noted the Liebermann painting in the collection and in recent years it was listed in German’s Lostart database.

While the younger Gurlitt still possesses the “Riders” painting, he sold “Basket Weavers” at auction to an unnamed Israeli collector in 2000 for about $92,300, Haaretz reported.

Toren, a native of Germany, also is suing Germany and the state of Bavaria for having failed to inform his family of the find after they confiscated more than 1,400 works from Gurlitt in 2012 in the course of an investigation for tax evasion. He had inherited the art from his father, a dealer hired by the Nazis to buy art for its museums, as well as art that it considered “degenerate” that could be sold for profit.

The “Riders” painting was among those works shown to the public at a news conference in Augsburg last fall, after Focus magazine revealed the find.

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, Toren was 14 years old in August 1939 when his parents sent him to safety in Sweden. His entire family, except for one aunt and one brother, were murdered in the Holocaust. Toren immigrated to the United States in 1956 with $100 and a photograph of his parents, the report said.

A task force has been established to research the provenance of all works in Gurlitt’s collection, and Gurlitt’s attorney recently announced that he would cooperate with heirs making legitimate claims.

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