AFP 7 April 2014
BERLIN - 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.
A spokesman for Cornelius Gurlitt, 81, in whose homes hundreds of works by European masters have been discovered, said a second 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 heirs 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 a rival claim by an unnamed party had now been staked 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.
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 comment on the identity of the new claimant or even his or her nationality.
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.
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 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."