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Works of Art Called “Degenerate Art” from Collections of Art Dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt now fully Catalogued

Published in Scholarly Database at Freie Universität Berlin

№ 236/2018 from Sep 12, 2018

The works acquired by the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt during the period of National Socialism in Germany that were officially ostracized as “degenerate art” have been fully catalogued in a database. They include works that were discovered in Munich in 2012, known as the “Gurlitt discovery.” On Friday the “Degenerate Art” Research Center at Freie Universität Berlin published its current research findings on Hildebrand Gurlitt’s trade in “Degenerate Art.” In total, Gurlitt acquired 3,879 works that had been confiscated by the National Socialists. The researchers have now determined that 349 of the works found in Munich had been taken from museums and confiscated by the German Reich. The museum of origin is clearly identifiable in 98 of those. More than 150 other works found in Munich may belong to the group of “degenerate art,” but clear evidence is lacking, such as stamps, stickers, inscriptions, historical photographs, or written sources. Since 2003, the “Degenerate Art” Research Center has been based at the Art History Institute of Freie Universität, and since 2016 it has received funding from the German Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

Researchers at the “Degenerate Art” Research Center investigate the methods of National Socialist art policy. In particular, they look into the history and effects of the seizure of modern works of art in German museums by the National Socialists in 1937. Compiling digital records of all the confiscated works of art including documentation for each single object is of central importance. Since 2010 the findings have been available to any interested persons free of charge in a database on the Internet. The database is available in both German and English and is internationally recognized as a primary research tool for provenance research.

Even before the “Gurlitt discovery” in 2012, the staff of the research center had done intensive research on Hildebrand Gurlitt, following the acquisition of important business correspondence between 1941 and 1944. This acquisition was made possible through financial support from the research center’s main sponsor for many years, the Ferdinand Möller Foundation. Hildebrand Gurlitt was one of the few art dealers authorized by the Nazi authorities from 1938 on to sell works of “degenerate art” abroad in exchange for foreign currency. Gurlitt took over 3,879 works from those seized during the “degenerate art” confiscation campaign, far more than the other art dealers. These works were withdrawn from public institutions for aesthetic reasons. Since the reasons given were not racial, ideological, religious, or political, the change of ownership continued to be legally recognized after the end of World War II. Even today, they are considered non-returnable.

On September 14, an exhibition of these works entitled Bestandsaufnahme Gurlitt – Ein Kunsthändler im Nationalsozialismus opened in the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. In addition, the “Degenerate Art” Research Center provides further information about the works in its database.


Dr. Meike Hoffmann, Academic Coordinator, “Degenerate Art” Research Center, Art History Institute, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838 70338, Email: meike.hoffmann@fu-berlin.de