Monday, February 17, 2020

The German police find 1400 paintings worth a billion or more in a tax evader’s (and hermit’s) apartment, and tell no one until the story is leaked to a German magazine. The fellow has disappeared, and it turns out his dad was essentially the art looter-in-chief for the Nazis. More than that, after the Allies captured the looted paintings in the post-WWII war period—paintings stolen from Jewish collectors and those labeled as degenerate—they were given back to the scoundrel in the 1950s. The paintings were left to his now disappeared son—an old recluse whose friends think the cops will find his corpse in a house in Austria. There is speculation that there are more paintings to come, but the Germans say not.

In the meantime, no one knows why the Germans didn’t break the news earlier. And the Claims Conference representatives in Germany are already demanding the paintings be turned over to them, while individuals whose parents owned extensive art collections are already laying claim to some of the works that were posted to the web last Monday. These are important paintings that range from the 16th to the early 20th century and include many grandmasters, including Courbet, Chagall, Picasso and Matisse. Toulouse-Lautrec, it boggles the mind.

There are so many questions to ask, so many mysteries to solve, even Nancy Drew would get dizzy.

Why did the Allies return the paintings to a known Nazi collaborator? Why did the Germans try to keep this trove a secret and refuse to post to the web until forced to do so?

Why does the Claims Conference think it has the right to the paintings even before their provenance has been proven? Why aren’t the Germans going to handle inquiries from heirs and assigns? One need only look at the controversy surrounding the East German properties to wonder why the CC would want those paintings. No one wants a repeat of the properties fiasco.

You have to wonder. How many people are hoarding looted paintings and will never be able to show them or sell them? Art lovers can be so very passionate and become prisoners of their possessions. Do they build special rooms like those in the movies—where art collectors go to gloat over stolen masterpieces?

This trove is huge. It is filled with works by artists who are household names, whose paintings fetch millions of dollars. What is this going to do to the art market? Will it enhance the price of these works for having the cachet of being looted art? Or will it depress prices because of the rules surrounding supply and demand?

The missing elements are a good murder or two; a good-looking thief caught red-handed, a sexy female cop, an international chase, and an expose of how the art markets work, including the seamy underside where stolen art exchanges hands.

Anyone care to write the screenplay? To be continued.