Camille Pissarro, Rue St.-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie (Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain), 1897, on display in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.

Heirs of Jewish Collector Sue Madrid Museum for Return of Pissarro Painting

On Monday, July 10, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals gave the green light to a lawsuit filed by the family of a Jewish woman who was forced to sell her artwork to the Nazis in 1939, the Associated Press reports. Two of Lily Cassirer’s great-grandchildren have been seeking the return of the Camille Pissarro canvas titled Rue Saint-Honoré, Après-midi, Effet de Pluie (Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain), 1897, from Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum for more than a decade. They claim that Cassirer sold the work to a Nazi art appraiser for $360 before she fled Germany. The work’s estimated value is $40 million.

The painting, which depicts a Paris street, has been in the possession of the museum since 1993. The institution acquired the piece when it bought Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s art collection for $338 million, which was well below the holdings’ worth of roughly $2 billion. Thyssen-Bornemisza himself purchased the Pissarro from a New York art dealer for $275,000 in 1976.

Commenting on the reversal of the 2015 dismissal of the suit, the family’s attorney, David Boies, said, “It sent a strong message that even public authorities cannot take possession in bad faith of stolen property and then somehow gain title to it simply over the passage of time.”

After World War II, Cassirer tried, unsuccessfully, to locate the work. Thinking the painting was lost or destroyed in the war, the German government paid her $13,000 in reparations in 1958. Her grandson Claude Cassirer, who was with her when she fled the Third Reich, first learned of the painting’s existence in 1999, when a friend saw it listed in a catalogue, and he has been fighting for its return since. The family filed a petition in Spain for the restitution of the work in 2001 before deciding to sue the museum from the US in 2005. Since Claude’s death in 2010, his son took over the litigation.

Thaddeus Stauber, a lawyer representing the foundation that runs the museum, said that he is confident the baron and the museum acquired the Pissarro in good faith. According to the court ruling, the museum must prove that it did not know that Cassirer sold the painting to the Nazis under duress when it purchased it.