(Reuters) - A vast trove of modern art seized under Germany's Nazi regime, including works by Picasso, Matisse and Chagall, has been discovered in a Munich apartment among stacks of rotting groceries, German magazine Focus reported.
The 1,500 art works, missing for more than 70 years, and discovered by chance by customs authorities in the southern German state of Bavaria in 2011, could be worth well over 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion), Focus said.
There was no word on why the find had taken so long to come to light. Bavarian officials declined any comment on what could be one of the largest recoveries of Nazi-looted art.
Focus said experts were now valuing the paintings, drawings and prints, being held in a customs depot, and trying to determine their ownership.
Some may once have been on display in German museums, then removed from 1937 onwards because Hitler's Third Reich considered them "degenerate", while others were seized, or forcibly sold for a pittance by persecuted Jewish collectors.
The collection was also believed to contain a painting of a woman by Henri Matisse which belonged to Paris-based Jewish art collector Paul Rosenberg, Focus said.
Customs investigators made the sensational find in 2011 after a 76-year-old man travelling by train from Zurich to Munich aroused suspicion at the border when he was found carrying a large, albeit legal, amount of cash.
The man was Cornelius Gurlitt, son of art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was a specialist in the modern art of the early 20th century that the Nazis branded as un-German.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels recruited him to sell abroad the "degenerate art" to try and generate cash for the state. Gurlitt also independently bought art from desperate Jewish dealers forced to sell.
After the war he persuaded the Americans that, as he had a Jewish grandmother, he himself had been persecuted. He continued working as a dealer and died in a traffic accident in 1956.
Focus said Cornelius Gurlitt, a recluse, had funded himself by occasionally selling a painting. The magazine printed an image of a painting of horses by German expressionist Franz Marc which it said came from the collection. ($1 = 0.7414 euros)
(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
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