In 2013, the German government confiscated roughly 1,300 works by Henri Matisse, George Grosz, Claude Monet, and other masters from the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of one of Hitler's primary art dealers. For two years, the government kept the discovery a secret. Here, Mary M. Lane reveals the fate of those works and tells the story of art in the Third Reich and Germany's ongoing struggle to right the wrongs of the past.
... a scrupulous account of Hitler’s abiding obsession with art and Germany’s cultural patrimony that set the stage for the Gurlitt gambit ... The narrative can sometimes feel meandering, in particular her detailed account of the art scenes of the interwar years and Grosz’s biography. What’s more, her insistence that Hitler always saw himself as an artist as much as a political leader reads as credulous to the Führer’s calculated self-presentation. But she makes a convincing, full-throated case for the German government to amend its laws and practices regarding looted property.
Essential reading for both art history students and appreciators of the present artistic culture ... revelatory ... Reading like a novel, this well-researched re-threading of Nazism’s hateful tapestries chronicles the perspective of the Führer’s singular ambition to redefine the global art culture in his Aryan image, the artists victimized in service to it and the art dealers tasked with making it happen ... the allure of Lane’s monograph is that the art world remains the 'world’s largest legal but unregulated industry,' where vacuity within rules of conduct demonstrate how nothing has been done to prevent what she refers to as eager victimizations imposed by a 'new Gurlitt.' This continuity draws a line between the iniquities of past fascistic exploitation, and our cold capitalistic present, where such injuries have become institutional convention.
What could have been an exploration of the continued ethical problems with the art world’s handling of these items instead becomes an overly simplistic cultural history of German artists and Hitler’s rise to power that covers the same ground as Susan Roland’s Hitler’s Art Thief. And while the Gurlitt family’s story provides a new view on culture in Nazi Germany, the author overall relies too much on well-trod history.