Prosecutors are probing whether he improperly acquired the works, but no charges have been filed, and prosecutors say there may not be any.
Although prosecutors didn’t name the suspect, heirs of the late Jewish collector Alfred Flechtheim issued a statement saying the case raised “justifiable suspicions” that some works the Nazis had taken from him might have been bought by Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who acted for the Nazis.
A Max Beckmann painting that once belonged to Flechtheim was sold two years ago through the Lempertz auction house in Cologne. A legal adviser for Lempertz, Karl-Sax Feddersen, told The Associated Press that the seller was Gurlitt’s son Cornelius.
The German magazine Focus also reported that Cornelius Gurlitt was the man under investigation.
Neither Cornelius Gurlitt nor his lawyer could immediately be reached for comment yesterday.
The mystery now turns to the art.
The 121 framed and 1,285 unframed works found in one room at the apartment were “professionally stored and in a very good condition,” said Siegfried Kloeble, head of the customs investigations office in Munich. He said it took a specialist company three days to remove the paintings; officials refused to say where they are being kept now.
Investigators, aided by a leading art historian, are trying to establish the artworks’ legal status and history. So far, officials said they have done at least preliminary research on only about 500 of the pieces.
It’s unclear how many of the works might be subject to return to pre-World War II owners.
Speaking at the news conference, prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz said investigators have turned up “concrete evidence” that the find includes both works that the Nazis classed as “degenerate art” and seized from German museums in 1937 or shortly after, and other works that may have been taken from individuals. The Nazis often forced Jewish collectors to sell their art at pitifully low prices to German dealers or simply took them.