About us

The Mission

Following the discovery of more than 1000 artworks on the premises of the late Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich, Bavaria, a taskforce was established in November 2013 to ascertain which of these works had been expropriated from their owners by the National Socialist (Nazi) regime between 1933 and 1945.
The Taskforce’s mission is born of Germany’s awareness of its responsibility to examine its recent past and account for Nazi crimes. By doing so, Germany upholds the Washington Principles of 1998 and the ‘Joint Declaration’ of 1999 signed by the German government, the sixteen German states (Länder), and central municipal associations (Kommunale Spitzenverbände). The massive scale of the looting that took place during the Nazi regime is still an issue today. In spite of the years that have passed since World War II and the fact that many documents have disappeared or were destroyed, Germany continues to conduct the necessary research for documents and artworks to rectify this looting and return works of art, whenever possible, to the rightful owners and heirs. Although the Washington Principles were adopted by countries, and are thus not directly applicable to private persons like Cornelius Gurlitt, the Federal Government of Germany and the Free State of Bavaria, in acknowledgment of their responsibility for their country’s past, have stepped forward in this extraordinary case and set up the Taskforce, sharing its funding equally.
The research objective is to determine which of the Gurlitt artworks were potentially looted from their former owners by the Nazi regime and if so, from whom they were taken. Based on its research, the Taskforce issues a report on each object for which it is responsible. Because of incomplete, contradictory, and insufficient information, results of the research on many objects will be inconclusive and ongoing.
If a report finds that an artwork was stolen and the former owner is known, restitution may follow. However, the Taskforce has no legal authority to determine disposition of the object. The authority for restitution rests with the trustee for the late Cornelius Gurlitt’s estate until the question of who will inherit it is cleared. The trustee acts in close cooperation with the office of the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media. 

The Team

The Taskforce was installed in January/February 2014 as an international team of experts composed of provenance researchers, museum professionals, contemporary historians, art historians and jurists from Austria, France, Hungary, Israel, Poland, the United States, as well as from German Federal and Bavarian State authorities and institutions. According to their particular expertise they carry out research as assigned, recommend procedures, and review all research results according to scholarly standards. This review requires a unanimous vote. Members of the Taskforce act as an advisory group and report to the Head of the Taskforce.
The Office of the Taskforce acts as the primary point of contact for anyone wishing to file a claim on the artworks found at Cornelius Gurlitt’s premises. It is composed of the Head of the Taskforce and the scientific coordinator. They are responsible for the management and coordination of the research, and are joined by the representative of the Bavarian judicial department. The three of them are also members of the Taskforce. The office was strengthened by a press expert in 2013, and in 2014 by a team assistant and budget officer.
The work of the Taskforce is supported by a varying number of contract-based provenance researchers. 

Claims and Inquiries

The Office of the Taskforce has received more than 300 letters and emails to date, and more continue to arrive. Some of these articulate well-defined claims, supported by relevant documentation. In its work on behalf of all victims of the Nazi regime, the Taskforce responds to every inquiry it receives, and shares its research results with each claimant.
In several instances, the Taskforce has been able to determine only that the artworks in question are not among those found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s possession. On other occasions, the Taskforce has requested more information and specific details. In its investigative work, the Taskforce must prioritize its research: top priority is given to claims and requests for information from survivors of the Holocaust. Works with existing or easily available documentation and works of great art-historical significance are also prioritized – even when no restitution claim has been filed.

The Process

Provenance research, a complex and time-consuming process, documents the history of the creation and ownership of an object, ideally through an unbroken sequence of previous owners and transactions. With no inventory or reliable documentation of the artworks in Gurlitt’s ‘art trove’, the Taskforce researchers face many challenges. For example, it is difficult to determine an exact match between works previously posted on the Lost Art database if those works are by artists who depicted the same subject several times, or who made prints that have numerous impressions which are unaccounted for. The Office of the Taskforce has developed its own internal standardized procedure to document all findings, known as object records. These contain the research status of each work and are continuously updated, with the goal of avoiding duplication of research.