BERLIN (AP) — German authorities are investigating a huge art find reported to include hundreds of works seized by the Nazis and considered missing for decades, officials said Monday.
The discovery was first reported by Germany's Focus magazine, which claimed Sunday that a cache of 1,500 works, including pieces by such masters as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Emil Nolde, was found in a Munich apartment in early 2011.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said the government was informed "several months ago" about the case. He said authorities in Berlin were supplying "advice from experts in the field of so-called 'degenerate art' and the area of Nazi-looted art."
Seibert referred further questions to prosecutors in the southern city of Augsburg, where spokesman Matthias Nickolai said he could give no details before a scheduled press conference Tuesday morning.
Focus reported that some of the artworks discovered may have been seized by the Nazis from Jewish owners, or bought from them under duress. But art historians say the works could mainly consist of what the Nazis considered "degenerate art" that did not necessarily belong to Jews.
These were largely modern or abstract works by artists that the regime of Adolf Hitler believed to be a corrupting influence on the German people. Their "deviant" characteristics were often attributed to Jewish corruption, and thousands of such works were seized.
"We don't know how many of the 1,500 works are 'degenerate' works or looted by the Nazis," said Christoph Zuschlag, an expert on "degenerate art" at the University of Koblenz. "So we need to examine each piece individually."
He cautioned against overestimating the value of the collection before it had been thoroughly assessed. "We need to see whether these were originals or prints," he told The Associated Press. He noted that of the 21,000 pieces of "degenerate art" seized from German museums in or shortly after 1937, two-thirds were prints while only one-third were originals.