LOS ANGELES – California’s attorney general is asking a federal appeals court to reverse a ruling allowing a priceless 19th century painting to remain in a Spanish museum rather than going to the heirs of a Jewish woman forced to hand it over to the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Attorney General Kamala Harris said Friday she recently filed a friend of the court brief with San Francisco’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Lilly Cassirer’s family.
Cassirer was forced to give Camille Pissarro’s “Rue Saint-Honore, Apres-midi, Effet de Pluie” to the Nazi government in 1939 for $360 and a visa allowing her to leave the country.
The painting exchanged hands several times until 1993, when Spain paid $338 million for it and numerous other works acquired by prominent art collector Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza.
The stunning Parisian streetscape, painted in 1897, was placed in Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. It is insured for more than $10 million, according to the website Artnet, which tracks paintings and other works.
U.S. District Judge John Walter ruled last June that under Spanish law the museum is its rightful owner. At the same time, he urged the institution to consider some sort of resolution, adding Spain has said it supports international agreements committed to achieving “just and fair solutions” for victims of Nazi persecution.
Harris seized upon those words in her friend of the court brief.
“The cruel atrocities and genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime against Jewish families during World War II can never be fully redressed,” she said in a statement. “But the Cassirer case provides a rare opportunity for one family to seek justice.”
Cassirer spent years trying to find the painting before accepting $13,000 in restitution from West Germany in 1958 under a deal allowing her to retain ownership rights.
By then the painting had already been sold to a U.S. collector, who sold it to the baron in 1976. A friend of Cassirer’s grandson Claude Cassirer saw it in the museum in 2000 and the family sued to get it back.
A museum lawyer said last year Spain acquired the work in good faith and never tried to hide it.
“The painting has been in the public domain for over 40 years,” attorney Thaddeus Stauber said at the time.