Occupying Nazi forces seized The Penitent Magdalene by the Dutch artist Adriaen van der Werff (1659-1722) in October 1942 from Lionel Hauser, said the court ruling, seen by AFP.
Hauser, who came from a French Jewish family, fled to the south of France after German forces invaded. He was a distant cousin and confidant of Proust, author of the 20th-century masterpiece In Search of Lost Time.
The painting’s whereabouts were largely unknown until 2017, until its owner asked when the London-based auction house to sell it.
Christie’s had previously sold the same work in 2005 for £60,000 (S$97,582).
This time, it researched the painting’s provenance and discovered that it had been part of Hauser’s collection – and was also listed on a record of works plundered in France during the war.
It contacted Hauser’s heirs and proposed splitting the profits of the sale but the offer was refused, according to French media reports.
The court also ordered Christie’s to pay the heirs 10,000 euros (S$14,283) and reveal the identity of the painting’s current owner and its current whereabouts, as well as its sales record.
The case was the latest in France aimed at restoring artworks looted by the Nazis to their rightful owners.
The Nazis are estimated to have plundered some 600,000 artworks in Europe, according to a US congressional report. Courts on both sides of the Atlantic have regularly heard cases designed to restore items to their original owners.