Restitution battle for £22m Pissarro painting

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Restitution battle for £22m Pissarro painting

US Supreme Court will decide on the fate of an 1897 painting which was taken by the Nazis from its former Jewish owner in 1939

In question: Camille Pissarro’s painting
In question: Camille Pissarro’s painting

The US Supreme Court is adjudicating on the fate of an 1897 painting by the impressionist Camille Pissarro, pitting the heirs of its former Jewish owner against a museum in Madrid whose backer paid millions for it.

The piece – titled Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain – was owned by the Cassirer family, who bought it directly from Pissarro’s art dealer.

Heirs argue that Lilly Cassirer Neubauer had to sell her painting to obtain the expensive exit visa needed to flee the Nazis in 1939. A Nazi-appointed appraiser offered her £280 for it, then paid the money into an account she could not access.

In 1958, she accepted around £10,000 in reparations from the German government but did not waive her right to seek the painting’s return, prompting her grandson, Claude, to pursue the piece, which is worth £22 million.

It was bought by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1976, before passing to Spain in 1993, when a state-backed foundation paid the baron £280m for much of his collection, to be installed at a museum in his name.

America’s top court agreed to consider the case in October last year and began hearing arguments on Tuesday. Both Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum as well as the Spanish state have rebuffed the restitution claims.

Claude died in 2010 and his California-based son, David, has taken on the challenge. The Supreme Court is being asked to rule on which country – the US or Spain – has jurisdiction, given they have different laws governing restitution.

The museum has said that both it and Thyssen-Bornemisza bought the painting without knowing it was Nazi-looted art, and that David’s great-grandmother had already “received her requested compensation – a then-fair market value of the painting – to compensate her for her loss”.


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