Supreme Court: Family may pursue late La Mesa man’s claim to priceless painting taken by Nazis

A view of “Rue Saint-Honore, Afternoon, Rain Effect” by Camille Pissarro. Photo credit: Screenshot, museothyssen.org/

The US Supreme Court on Thursday revived a lawsuit brought by a late La Mesa resident who claimed he and his family should own a painting an ancestor gave to the Nazis.

The dispute over Camille Pissarro’s “Rue Saint-Honore, Afternoon, Rain Effect” stems from a lawsuit filed by now-deceased La Mesa resident Claude Cassirer.

He argued that he and his family should retain ownership of the French Impressionist painting instead of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, an entity controlled by the Kingdom of Spain.

Cassirer’s grandmother, Lilly Cassirer, inherited the painting but turned it over to the Nazis in 1939 to obtain an exit visa and escape Berlin. The painting changed hands for decades, including a long stint in St. Louis, and was eventually sold to the foundation, which placed it in a museum in Madrid.

Claude Cassirer later discovered that the painting was hanging in the foundation’s museum and after unsuccessful attempts to retrieve it, he sued to get it back.

While lower courts ruled that Spanish property law should govern ownership of the painting, resulting in a ruling that awarded the piece to the foundation, the US high court unanimously overturned the decision Thursday. the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The new ruling means the case must be sent back to a lower court and California law must be applied to determine ownership of the painting.

“The path of our decision has been as short as the search for Rue Saint-Honoré was long; our ruling is as simple as that the dispute over its rightful owner has been vexed,” Judge Elena Kagan wrote in Thursday’s opinion.

According to CNBC, the plaintiffs in the case now include Claude Cassirer’s son, David, and the Jewish Federation of San Diego. The lawsuit dates back to 2005.

Lawyers for the family say they will prevail because California law does not allow the purchase of stolen property, even if the buyer bought it in good faith.

“Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain”, according to the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, is one of a series of 15 works that Pissarro painted in Paris from a hotel window between 1897 and 1898.

The foundation that runs the museum acquired the Pissarro as part of a $300 million collection owned by the heir to a German steel magnate. The value of the painting in question could exceed tens of millions of dollars on its own, according to the court’s decision.

– Staff and telegraphic reports

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