Updated: Thursday, 30 January 2014 02:42 | By Agence France-Presse

Germany to boost efforts to return Nazi-looted art

Germany will boost funding for efforts to return Nazi-looted art to their rightful owners and may invite Jewish representatives to join a mediation body, the government said Wednesday.

Germany to boost efforts to return Nazi-looted art

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) speaks with Culture Secretary Monika Gruetters before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on January 8, 2014 - by Odd Andersen

Funding for provenance research of art suspected to have been stolen will be doubled, the new minister of state for culture, Monika Gruetters, was quoted as saying in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily.

She did not specify an amount.

The move follows wide criticism over Germany's handling of the discovery of a vast trove of long-lost masterpieces, many thought to be Nazi loot, found in the Munich flat of an elderly recluse.

Although the more than 1,400 works by masters such as Picasso, Matisse and Chagall were discovered in early 2012, the spectacular find only became known to the public late last year through a news magazine report.

The eccentric hermit who was in possession of the priceless art, Cornelius Gurlitt, 80, is the son of Nazi-era art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who acquired the paintings in the 1930s and 1940s.

Germany has since sped up efforts to locate their rightful owners, publishing images of the pictures on website lostart.de.

The elder Gurlitt had been tasked by the Nazis with selling art the Hitler regime deemed "degenerate", or works it had stolen or bought for a pittance under duress, from Jewish collectors.

Gruetters also said there were plans to expand the government-backed mediation panel that now hears disputes about artworks of contested provenance, the eight-member Limbach Commission.

The body, which has former German president Richard von Weizsaecker on its board along with a former high court judge, historians and experts, can make recommendations but no binding rulings.

"I can certainly imagine expanding the Limbach Commission and including representatives of Jewish organisations," Gruetters told the newspaper.

She also said that the Gurlitt case and the international criticism it sparked had been a wake-up call for many German art collectors.

"Genuine and responsible Germans were, I believe, rather sensitised by this case," she told the daily. "There are private persons who are re-examining their collections."

Gurlitt too has said he is willing to consider claims for some of the artworks that were found in his apartment, his lawyer Hannes Hartung was quoted as telling national news agency DPA.

Hartung was quoted as saying the octogenarian "is willing to look closely at the looted art lawsuits and negotiate fair and equitable solutions".

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