Family battles Spanish museum over looted art

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Family battles Spanish museum over looted art

LOS ANGELES - The latest step in a Jewish family’s 16-year battle to reclaim a priceless painting their ancestors surrendered in exchange for safe passage out of Nazi Germany moves to a Southern California courtroom on Monday.

Attorney David Boies will argue before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Impressionist Camille Pissarro’s 1897 work rightfully belongs to the family of Lilly Cassirer.

Cassirer and her husband gave it up in 1939 in exchange for visas allowing safe passage to England ahead of the Holocaust. When they did so, they set Pissarro’s stunning 1897 oil-on-canvas Paris street scene on an incredible journey of its own.

It was an odyssey that would take “Rue St.-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie” from Germany to the United States, through the hands of several wealthy collectors and prominent art dealers and, finally, to Spain’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, where it has resided since 1993.

The museum’s attorney, Thaddeus J. Stauber, argues the issue is no longer about looted art but simply well-documented ownership rights to a painting purchased in good faith.

What’s more, Stauber says, Cassirer forfeited her ownership rights when she accepted $13,000 from the German government in 1958 for the painting’s loss.

U.S. District Judge John F. Walter determined that under Spanish law the artwork belongs to the museum, but he concluded that when Cassirer accepted payment for the painting in 1958 she had no idea it still existed.

That shows, Boies says, that Cassirer never signed away her rights.

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