Spanish museum, family in court over art
LOS ANGELES — The great-grandson of a Jewish woman who surrendered her priceless Camille Pissarro painting to escape the Holocaust watched Tuesday as his lawyer relentlessly grilled officials of the Spanish museum where it now hangs, expressing incredulity that they didn't know it was Nazi looted art.
Members of the museum's legal and research team, including some who were there when the painting "Rue St.-honore, Apres-midi, Effet de Pluie" was acquired in 1992, insisted due diligence was done. They added they had no idea it was stolen until Lilly Cassirer's grandson, Claude, discovered it in 1999.
For nearly 20 years, the family has been battling to get it back. The museum maintains the work, valued at more than $30 million, was acquired in good faith and it should be allowed to keep it.
"I'm delighted we finally had our day in court. I'm cautiously optimistic," David Cassirer, whose great-grandmother surrendered the painting, said outside court. He has continued the legal fight for the painting since his father died.
During more than five hours of testimony Tuesday, attorney David Boies pressed officials representing Madrid's Thyssen-bornemisza museum, often expressing doubt they seemed to know so little about the painting's history when it was purchased in 1992.
The painting was one of hundreds that Spain and a nonprofit foundation acquired from Baron Hans-heinrich Thyssen-bornemisza to create the museum that now bears the German industrialist's name.
The stunning oil-oncanvass work, whose title translates in English to "Rue Saint-honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain," was painted in 1897. It shows a rainy Paris street scene the artist observed from his hotel window.
Lilly Cassirer's fatherin-law bought it directly from Pissarro's art dealer and left it to her and her husband when he died. She traded it to the Nazis in 1939 in exchange for exit visas for herself, her husband and her grandson.
The post-world War II German government, thinking the work was lost, paid her $13,000 in reparations in 1958.
In truth it had been sold and resold in Germany before arriving in the United States sometime after 1943. Thyssen-bornemisza bought it from New York gallery owner Stephan Hahn in 1976.