Spanish museum confident it can keep California family’s artwork looted by Nazis

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A leading Spanish museum said Friday it was confident US courts would rule again that a valuable French Impressionist painting once taken from a Jewish family by the Nazis belonged to the museum, not the family’s descendants.

In a statement on Friday, the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum said that despite a new decision by the United States Supreme Court which sent the case back to lower courts, it was certain that those courts would again decide that Spanish law , rather than California law, should prevail.

This would mean that the painting, “Rue Saint-Honoré in the afternoon, rain effect” by Camille Pissarro, should remain in the hands of the museum in Madrid where it now hangs. The painting was estimated at over $30 million.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to send the case to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has kept San Diego resident David Cassirer’s hopes alive of reclaiming the streetscape that belonged to his great grandmother.

Cassirer, who is pursuing his family’s lawsuit — along with the Jewish Federation of San Diego — had welcomed the court’s decision.

US lower courts have previously held that Spanish property law and not California law should ultimately govern the case, and that under Spanish law the museum was the rightful owner of the painting, that the family believed for over half a century had been lost or destroyed.

The 9th Circuit Court will now decide whether California state law, rather than federal law, can override Spanish law. This could overrule previous decisions.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum said Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said during the hearing that the next ruling would likely again be in favor of the Spanish museum.

Cassirer’s great-grandmother, Lilly Cassirer, a German Jew, owned the 1897 oil painting. After the Nazis came to power, Cassirer and her husband fled Germany. In 1939, in order to obtain visas to leave, she gave up Pissarro’s painting to the Nazis.

The painting changed hands several times thereafter.

In 1958, Lilly Cassirer reached a monetary settlement with the German government worth around $250,000 today, but she did not waive her rights to try to sue the painting if she showed up.

Rather than being lost or destroyed, the painting had traveled to the United States, where it spent 25 years in the hands of various collectors before being purchased in 1976 by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza of Lugano, Switzerland. . He owned it until the 1990s, when he sold much of his art collection to Spain.

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