Art Market

Madrid’s Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza was deemed the rightful owner of a Nazi-looted Camille Pissarro painting.

Justin Kamp
Aug 19, 2020 5:35PM, via Courthouse News

Camille Pissarro, Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon. Effect of Rain, 1897. Via Wikimedia Commons.

A Ninth Circuit appeals panel ruled on Monday that the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid can keep a Camille Pissarro painting, Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain (1897), which was looted from a Jewish family by Nazis. The appellate panel’s ruling affirmed a 2019 federal ruling, which found that the museum’s patron, the late Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, had not known of the painting’s tainted provenance when he bought it in 1976, nor had the museum when it acquired the collection that contained the work in 1993.

An unsigned and unpublished memorandum from the panel, circulated by Courthouse News, said:

The district court found that the baron lacked actual knowledge of the theft based in part on evidence that the baron purchased the painting for fair market value from a reputable art dealer while the painting was publicly displayed and then publicly and frequently exhibited the painting after he purchased it, without anyone asserting it had been stolen in the past.

The Impressionist painting originally belonged to Julius Cassirer, a Jewish German industrialist, who bought it in 1898. The work eventually ended up in the hands of his daughter-in-law, Lilly Cassirer, who was forced by the Nazi government to leave the painting behind while fleeing Germany in the months leading up to the outbreak of World War II. The Cassirer family, believing the painting to be lost, accepted compensation from an Allied tribunal after the war.

In 1999, Lilly Cassirer’s grandson, Claude Cassirer, was informed that his family’s long-lost painting hung in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. The painting, which had resurfaced in Munich after the war, was purchased by an American art dealer in 1951 before it was acquired by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza at a New York auction in 1976. Claude Cassirer sued the museum in 2005. Following his death in 2010, the case was taken over by his son David.

The court’s ruling is the most recent resolution in ongoing efforts to restitute Nazi-looted artworks. Last month, the Cerruti Foundation in Turin, Italy reached a deal with the family of Gustav Arens, who had owned Jacopo del Sellaio’s Madonna and Child with the Young St John and Two Angels (1480–85) before it was stolen by Nazis in 1942. The foundation agreed to financially compensate the Arens family, allowing the work to stay in its collection.

Further Reading: 3 Cases That Explain Why Restituting Nazi-Looted Art Is So Difficult

Justin Kamp
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