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Judge rules Nazi-looted Pissarro belongs to museum, not survivors of original owner

media 'Camille Pissarro - Rue Saint-Honoré, dans l'après-midi. Effet de pluie' hangs at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled that a Spanish museum that acquired a painting by Camille Pissarro in 1992 is the work's rightful owner, and not the descendants of the Jewish woman who surrendered it to escape the Holocaust.

On Tuesday, US District Judge John F Walter said he found no evidence that the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid knew the painting was looted art in 1993 when it bought the collection of the German industrialist for whom the museum is named. Though the judge did criticise Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza for not doing all the due diligence he could when he bought the painting in 1976.

The painting, ‘Rue St.-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie’, depicts a rainy Paris street scene Pissarro saw from his window in 1897. Lilly Cassirer, a German Jewish woman, acquired it from her father in law, who bought it directly from Pisarro’s art dealer in 1900.

When Cassirer and her family fled Germany in 1939, she traded the painting to secure their passage out of the country.

The German government paid reparations to the family in 1958, assuming the painting was lost. But in 1999 a friend of Cassirer’s grandson, Claude, discovered it was in the Thyssen-Bornemisza.

For 20 years the family has been trying to get it back, and the latest court battle was brought by Cassirier’s great-grandson, David.

The court found that “there were sufficient suspicious circumstances or 'red flags' which should have prompted the baron to conduct additional inquires as to the seller's title.” Nevertheless, the judge concluded that the baron and the museum foundation did not know the work was looted, and that the painting legally belongs to the museum.

He did say the museum’s decision to keep it "inconsistent" with international agreements that it and other countries have signed "based upon the moral principle that art and cultural property confiscated by the Nazis from Holocaust victims should be returned to them or their heirs."

In 2017, a French court ordered the return of Pissarro to the descendants of the Jewish art collector whose property was seized by the French collaborationist government during the German occupation.

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