BERLIN - The reclusive German son of a Nazi-era art dealer who hoarded hundreds of priceless paintings in his Munich flat for decades has died aged 81, a spokesman said Tuesday.
"Cornelius Gurlitt died yesterday (Monday) morning in his apartment in Schwabing, in the presence of a doctor," 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 masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse and Chagall until he came to the attention of tax authorities in 2012.
He said Gurlitt had received round-the-clock care in his home until his death.
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.
Holzinger said the probe would now end with Gurlitt's death. 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 stolen from Jewish families and avant-garde art seized from German museums that the Hitler regime deemed "degenerate".
The case only came to public attention when Focus news weekly published an article on it late last year, sparking fierce international criticism that German authorities kept the case under wraps for so long.
Under the April accord, a government-appointed international task force of art experts will have one year to investigate the provenance of all the works in Gurlitt's Munich collection.
Artworks subject to ownership claims after that deadline will be held by a trust until the cases are resolved.