La Mesa Man’s Kin Can Pursue Claim on Priceless Painting Stolen by Nazis

A view of Camille Pissarro’s “Rue Saint-Honore, Afternoon, Rain Effect.” Photo credit: Screen shot,

The US Supreme Court Thursday revived a lawsuit brought by a late La Mesa resident who claimed he and his family should have ownership of a painting an ancestor gave up 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 alleged that he and his family should retain ownership of the French Impressionist painting rather than the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, an entity controlled by the Kingdom of Spain.

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

Claude Cassirer later discovered the painting was hanging in the foundation’s museum and after failed attempts to have it returned, sued to regain it.

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

The new ruling means the case should be returned to a lower court and California law should be applied to determine the painting’s ownership.

“The path of our decision has been as short as the hunt for Rue Saint- Honoré was long; Our ruling is as simple as the conflict over its rightful owner has been vexed, ”Justice 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 suit dates back to 2005.

The family’s attorneys say they will prevail because California law does not allow purchases of stolen goods even if the buyer purchased it in good faith.

“Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain,” according to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional, is one in a series of 15 works that Pissarro painted in Paris from the window of a hotel from 1897-98.

The foundation that runs the museum acquired the Pissarro as part of a $ 300 million collection owned by the heir of 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 wire reports

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