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Heir to Nazi-era art collection Cornelius Gurlitt dead at 81

BERLIN -- The reclusive German son of a Nazi-era art dealer who hoarded hundreds of priceless paintings in his Munich flat for decades, including works plundered from Jews, died Tuesday aged 81.

Cornelius Gurlitt died “in his apartment in Schwabing, in the presence of a doctor,” his spokesman Stephan Holzinger said in a statement, referring to an upscale district of Munich.

Holzinger said Gurlitt had recently undergone serious heart surgery and after spending a week in hospital, asked to return to his home where he had lived among long-lost masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse and Chagall until the collection came to the attention of the authorities two years ago.

Gurlitt had last month struck an accord with the German government to help track down the rightful owners of pieces in his trove of 1,280 artworks, including Jews whose property was stolen or extorted under the Third Reich.

The works, whose value has been estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars, were seized in February 2012 when they were discovered by chance in the course of a small-scale tax evasion investigation.

More than 200 paintings, sketches and sculptures discovered in a separate home of Gurlitt's in Salzburg, Austria including works by Monet, Manet, Cezanne and Gauguin are not covered by the German agreement and it was not immediately clear who would now claim them.

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 works taken from Jewish families and avant-garde art seized from German museums that the Hitler regime deemed “degenerate.”

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