BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany must publish the full list of artworks found in the flat of an elderly recluse last year which are mostly believed to have been looted or extorted by the Nazis, a German court ruled on Friday, citing the need for transparency in a case long hushed up.
The stash of more than 1,400 paintings, drawings and sculptures includes works by Picasso, Matisse and German expressionists Otto Dix and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Authorities have valued the collection at 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion).
Germany has faced criticism from around the world for failing to publish the full list of artworks, as well as for keeping silent for nearly two years about the trove.
Critics say it would be easier to establish the provenance and rightful ownership of works seized by the Nazis or bought under duress from Jews fleeing persecution during the Holocaust if details about them are made public.
“The administrative court of Augsburg has ordered state prosecutors to give a list of the artworks ... to the reporter of a daily newspaper,” the Bavarian court said in a statement, referring to the right to information under media law.
A spokesman for the prosecutors said they had already appealed against the court’s ruling and were not planning on publishing the list until that had been dealt with.
German mass-selling daily Bild said the ruling came after it had lodged a complaint with the court against the prosecutors for publishing details about only 442 artworks.
“The extremely high public interest in this case as well as above all the special moral dimension make transparency so important,” Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told Bild.
The artworks hoarded by the war-era art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, put in charge of selling confiscated “degenerate” art by Adolf Hitler, were found in the Munich apartment of his reclusive son Cornelius.
Their legal status is ambiguous, nearly 70 years after a war in which the Nazis plundered hundreds of thousands of art works from museums and from individuals, most of them Jews.
Gurlitt has demanded his art back and lawyers working on reclaiming property for heirs to Jewish collectors say he may get to keep at least some of it.
The Augsburg court said prosecutors must reveal for which artworks they had already contacted potential owners, although the names of the latter should not be published out of consideration of their interests. ($1 = 0.7415 euros)
Reporting By Sarah Marsh; Editing by Gareth Jones