Holocaust Art Case Reinstated

Heirs of Holocaust survivors who were paid $360 for a French impressionist painting won the right to pursue claims for recovery of the Camille Pissarro painting against a Spanish museum.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held Monday that California’s six-year statute of limitations for claims against art galleries, museums or art dealers was not constitutionally preempted by federal law.  But the panel also held that the long-running litigation over a work by Pissarro now held by the Theyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation in Spain and purchased it in the 1970s, could not be resolved by the panel.

The court sent the case back to the district judge in Los Angeles for further proceedings.

The Theyssen-Bornemisza Foundation sought to have the complaint by the heirs of Julius Cassirer dismissed, arguing California’s statute allowing the claims up to six years for recovery of fine art after the museum, auctioneer or gallery has actual knowledge of a claim against allegedly stolen art. (California had previously allowed claimants of Holocaust-era art to make claims so long as they were filed by 2010.  That law was struck down as unconstitutional.)

Cassirers purchased the Pissarro painting, “Rue Saint-Honore, après-midi, effet de pluie,” in 1898.  After his death, his daughter Lilly and her husband inherited the painting and in 1939 she decided to flee Germany because of the Nuremberg laws stripping Jews of civil rights and citizenship.

She and her husband Fritz Neubauer obtained permission to leave but any art had to be appraised before they could take it with them.  They were forbidden to take the Pissarro and paid $360 for it.  In 1943 it was sold to an anonymous buyer.  Lilly’s attempts to locate it after the war were unsuccessful and she was compensated by the German government in 1958, but did not divest her or her heirs of title, according to the panel.

She died in 1962 and her grandson Claude Cassirer continued his search for the painting.

In 1976, Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, a prolific art collector, purchased the painting.  In 1993, the Foundation, an agency of Spain, purchased it and placed it with other Foundation works in the Thyssen-BornemiszaMuseum.

Claude Cassirer discovered it in 2000 and filed suit against the foundation and Spain in 2005.

The Foundation has lost a prior request to dismiss, including a 9th Circuit appeal and 11-judge en banc ruling in 2010, then Casirers died and his children took his place in the fight.

Again the Foundation sought to dismiss the lawsuit based on new grounds.  Again, the 9th Circuit has refused and sent the case back for consideration of the claims.

While the suit survives, the appeals panel said it could not decide the merits of the family claim and sent the case back for review.

Case:  Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza, No. 12-56159


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