Federal Judge Declines Order to
Return Nazi Art to Jewish Decedents
Recently, Judge John F. Walter, a federal judge in Los Angeles, declined an order to return an Impressionist painting, that Jewish relatives say was sold to a Nazi art appraiser in 1939, against the will of its owner. The painting, “Rue Saint-Honoré, Après-midi, Effet de Pluie,” by Pissasarro, was sold by the family of Lilly Cassirer, for the equivalent of $360 and a visa out of Germany, while escaping the Nazis in 1939. The family sued the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Madrid in California federal court for the return of the painting that they feel is rightfully theirs. The museum contends that because after World War II Lilly Cassirer accepted $13,000 in restitution from the German government, the Cassirers have no ownership claim.
(Photo Credit: Detail from Camille Pissarro’s ‘Rue Saint-Honoré, Après-midi, Effet de Pluie’ (Wikimedia/public domain))
After the painting was sold to the Nazis in 1939, it surfaced in the United States in 1951 in a sale among various art collectors. It was then sold to Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, one of Germany’s prolific art collectors, in 1976. In 1993, the Spanish government paid $338 for hundreds on the baron’s artworks, which included the Pissarro.
The Judge ruled that Spanish law applied to the case, which did not require the return of the painting and although legally, the judge ruled against the Cassirer family, he did state that, “in light of Spain’s acceptance of the Washington Conference Principles and the Terezin Declaration, and, specifically, its commitment to achieve ‘just and fair solutions’ for victims of Nazi persecution.” The Terezin Declaration is a consensus among nations to assist in resolving legal issues related to Nazi-confiscated art. In this case, the judge is urging the museum to adhere to the document and achieve a morally just and fair solution for the Cassier family.
The ruling came weeks before a report, released by the World Jewish Restitution Organization, stating that U.S. museums are increasingly evading the restitution of Nazi-looted art, using legal technicalities to escape return. Gideon Taylor, chair of WJRO operations, stated that despite American museums having an obligation to ensure claimants a fair hearing, the chance of that happening is slim. The report highlights the Toledo Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Museum of Modern Art in New York, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma and each museums use of legal maneuvering to avoid restitution. The WJRO report pointed out that each of the five museums have argued that restitution for Nazi-looted art is not possible because of statute of limitations expiration, which have been noted to be unfounded. This emerging trend among U.S. museums is something to be appalled with, rather than applauded among the legal community.
Despite the ruling by the Federal judge in the Cassier case, the family’s attorney has promised to appeal. Please look out for any updates with this case in the future.
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Featured Image Credit: MATRIANA ELIANO , THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO
by Michael Cannon