Updated: Monday, 07 April 2014 20:54 | By Agence France-Presse

Rival claim staked on Matisse from Nazi-looted art stash

The heir of a Nazi-era art dealer said Monday that a priceless Henri Matisse painting he aims to return to its rightful owner is now the subject of a claim dispute.

Rival claim staked on Matisse from Nazi-looted art stash

A reproduction of a painting by French painter Henri Matisse titled 'Seated woman' is seen during a press conference in Augsburg, southern Germany, on November 5, 2013. AFP Photo : Christof Stache

A spokesman for Cornelius Gurlitt, 81, in whose homes hundreds of works by European masters have been discovered, said a second, rival claimant had come forward for the Matisse portrait "Sitting Woman". 

Gurlitt had said last month that he was prepared to hand back artworks stolen by the Nazis from Jewish families that he had stashed for decades, beginning with the Matisse canvas.

His spokesman Stephan Holzinger said negotiations were underway to give it to the descendants of prominent Paris art collector Paul Rosenberg, whose property was plundered under the Third Reich. 

However Gurlitt's representatives said in a statement Monday that an unnamed party had also staked a claim on the painting.

A lawyer for Gurlitt, Christoph Edel, said he was thus "legally obliged" to review the demand or risk legal action "should the painting be given to the wrong person by accident".

"But there has been absolutely no change to our clearly stated position that the paintings in question will be returned," Edel said.

The Matisse, believed to have been painted in the mid-1920s, shows a stout, dark-haired woman in a floral dress sitting in a chair in a room with vibrant wall coverings.

Gurlitt's spokesman said a government-appointed task force for the artworks had also not yet determined the provenance of the Matisse but that his team aimed to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

He told AFP he could not reveal the identity of the new claimant or even his or her nationality.

The task force also declined to comment on the development.

A lawyer for Rosenberg expressed surprise that news of a rival demand had been released to the media while he had not received any documentation from the task force "regarding an alleged second claim".

"Therefore, we cannot comment on what information is being released to the media other than it is highly unusual for professional and responsible researchers to take this approach," he said.

Gurlitt had around 1,400 works hoarded in his Munich apartment and more than 200 paintings, sketches and sculptures in a home in Salzburg, Austria.

They came to light by chance in the course of a customs investigation.

Gurlitt's father Hildebrand acquired most of the paintings in the 1930s and 1940s, when he worked as an art dealer tasked by the Nazis with selling stolen works and avant-garde art the Hitler regime deemed "degenerate".

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