Germany sought to calm a row over art looted during the Nazi era by posting images online of 25 paintings including long-lost works by Matisse, Delacroix and Rodin with the aim of finding their rightful owners.
After a week of uproar over the revelation that German customs police had more than a year-and-a-half ago seized about 1,400 treasured works stashed for decades in a Munich apartment, the government took a few steps toward transparency.
Public prosecutors in the southern city of Augsburg had been in charge of the investigation against Cornelius Gurlitt, the elderly son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a powerful Nazi-era art dealer and collector who acquired the paintings in the 1930s and 1940s.
They had commissioned a sole art historian to catalogue the works, and insisted on discretion for their ongoing probe into charges of tax evasion and misappropriation of assets.
But when the case was blown open in a magazine report last week, Jewish families who believe the haul may include paintings stolen or extorted from them under the Third Reich and museums whose holdings were raided demanded to see a full inventory in order to make possible claims.
Amid angry accusations of foot-dragging and obfuscation, the German government said it and the state of Bavaria had assumed responsibility for the provenance research and commissioned a task force of at least six experts to speed up the process.
It chose as a first step to post images on its official online database www.lostart.de 25 paintings “for which there is strong suspicion that they were seized as part of Nazi persecution”.
The website, which crashed repeatedly, apparently due to massive demand, is to be updated “regularly”.
The works shown included an undated dream-like allegorical scene by Chagall, a Delacroix sketch, the iconic 1901 work “Two Riders on the Beach” by Max Liebermann, a sumptuous portrait of a seated woman by Henri Matisse from the mid-1920s, and an undated nude drawing by Auguste Rodin.