Supreme Court reignites battle over painting stolen by Nazis

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a California man’s hope of recovering a prized Impressionist masterpiece taken from his family by the Nazis and now on display in a Spanish museum.

The issue in the case was not directly whether San Diego resident David Cassirer can recover French Impressionist Camille Pissarro’s streetscape. Instead, the question was how to determine which property laws – Spanish or Californian – ultimately apply to resolve the dispute over “Rue Saint-Honoré in the afternoon, effect of the rain “. The painting of a Paris street with horse-drawn carriages and a fountain is worth tens of millions of dollars today.

The lower courts had concluded that Spanish property law should ultimately govern the case and that under Spanish law the museum was the rightful owner of the painting which the family had believed for more than half a year. century lost or destroyed. If the Supreme Court had upheld this decision, the case would have been closed. Instead, the judges unanimously sided with Cassirer and sent the case to the lower courts, where he still faces hurdles to get the painting back.

The museum and Cassirer could also reach an agreement rather than continuing to fight in court.

Judge Elena Kagan wrote in the court’s 9-page opinion that “the road to our decision was as short as the hunt for rue Saint-Honoré was long; our decision is as simple as the dispute over its rightful owner was vexed.

In statements, Cassirer’s attorneys applauded the decision. David Boies, who argued the case before the judges, called it “a great day for the Cassirer family and for anyone who cares about justice”.

Cassirer’s lawyer, Scott Gant, said he hoped Spain and the foundation that runs the museum for the Spanish government would “reflect and conclude that they should return the painting rather than maintain their longstanding denial. to do what is right”.

In deciding the case, lower courts criticized Spain for failing to fulfill its commitments to return Nazi-looted art.

Lawyers for the museum did not immediately respond to messages seeking their reaction to the ruling.

The story of the stolen Pissarro painting goes back to Cassirer’s great-grandmother, Lilly Cassirer, a German Jew. She had owned the 1897 oil painting, one of a series of 15 that Pissarro painted of a Paris street seen from his hotel window.

After the Nazis came to power and years of escalating persecution, Lilly Cassirer and her husband decided to flee 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. It is now part of the collection of the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum in Madrid, which fought to preserve it. He is said to be worth over $30 million.

In 1958, Lilly Cassirer reached a monetary settlement with the German government worth approximately $250,000 in today’s dollars, but she did not waive her rights to try to sue the painting if she was showing up.

In fact, the painting was not lost or destroyed but 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. , in Swiss. He owned it until the 1990s, when he sold much of his art collection to Spain for over $300 million. The Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, a renovated palace, now houses the collection.

In 2000, Lilly Cassirer’s grandson, Claude Cassirer, learned of the painting’s whereabouts. Spain rejected his attempts to get it back, however, and he eventually filed a lawsuit in his home state of California in 2005. Claude Cassirer died in 2010. It is his son David who is now fighting for the return of the piece .

In his view, Kagan wrote that in trials like Cassirer’s, foreign parties should be treated as a private party would be. The “standard rule” is that the rules of the state where the lawsuit is filed should apply, she said.

This means that lower courts should have consulted California rules on which law to use to resolve the case. That doesn’t necessarily mean Cassirer will win. A lower court said that under California rules — which require determining whether California or Spanish property law should apply — Spanish law would still apply and the museum would win.

Kagan, one of two Jewish judges on the court, ended the notice by attaching an image of the painting and an image of the painting that hung in Lilly Cassirer’s living room in Germany.

The case is David Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, 20-1566.




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