Setback for Heirs in Long-Running Nazi Art Restitution Case

New York Times 10 January 2024
By Christopher Kuo

A U.S. Court of Appeals decision allows a Spanish museum to keep a Pissarro in a dispute that has lasted nearly two decades.

Camille Pissarro’s 1897 “Rue Saint-Honoré Après-midi, Effet de Pluie,” at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid. A court ruled the museum can keep the painting

The heirs of a woman who was forced to surrender a painting to the Nazis were dealt a blow on Tuesday in a decades-long legal feud between them and the Spanish museum that now owns the work, when a California appellate court ruled that the museum should retain ownership.

The ruling, in one of the longest-running Nazi restitution cases, involves a Camille Pissarro painting titled “Rue Saint-Honoré Après-midi, Effet de Pluie” (“Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain”) that is estimated to be worth millions of dollars. The painting was surrendered by a Jewish woman, Lilly Cassirer, to get an exit visa from Germany in 1939. The work was bought by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, and eventually ended up in a museum owned by the Spanish government.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Spanish law, not California law, applies to the case, and that the museum has “prescriptive title” to the painting after buying it in 1993.

Sam Dubbin, a lawyer for David Cassirer, Lilly’s great-grandson and the principal plaintiff in the case, wrote in an email to The New York Times that the court’s decision was incorrect and that Cassirer would be seeking an en banc review by a panel of 11 judges.

“The Cassirers believe that, especially in light of the explosion of antisemitism in this country and around the world today, they must challenge Spain’s continuing insistence on harboring Nazi looted art,” Dubbin wrote. “This decision also gives a green light to looters around the world.”
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