$40 million Nazi-looted painting belongs to Spanish museum, not heirs of Jewish owner, US judge rules

Detail from “Rue St.-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie” by Camille Pissarro. (Wikimedia Commons)

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that a Nazi-looted painting belongs to the Spanish museum that acquired it in 1992 and not the heirs of the Jewish woman who sold it before fleeing the Holocaust.

The painting, “Rue St.-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie” by Camille Pissarro, is on display at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Walter ruled that under Spanish law, the painting legally belongs to the museum since the museum foundation did not know the work was looted, though he criticized Spain’s decision to keep it.

The painting is valued at $40 million.

In 2005, Lily Cassirer’s grandson Claude sued for restitution of the painting, which his German-born grandmother sold in 1939 to an art dealer for the equivalent of $360 as she was fleeing her homeland from the Nazis. Cassirer’s father-in-law, Julius, had purchased the painting from the painter.

The painting was acquired by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1976 and has been displayed in Madrid since the museum opened in late 1992, after the baron gave his collection to the Spanish government. He died in 2002. The painting was insured for over $10 million.

Cassirer reportedly did not know the artwork was still in existence when she accepted a reparations payment of $13,000 for the painting from the German government in 1958. She did not waive her rights to the art.

The case has been appealed twice and sent back to the district court. The judge said in his decision that another appeal is possible, The Associated Press reported.