A JEWISH family is fighting for the return of a Pissarro masterpiece they were forced to handover to the Nazis. 

Lilly Cassirer and her husband surrendered Camille Pissarro’s impressionist painting ‘Rue Saint-Honore dans l’apres-midi. Effet de pluie’ to the Reich in 1939, but their heirs – who have been involved in a legal battle for 20 years – want it returned.

The piece, created in 1897 and worth around €40 million, has been held at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid since 1993.

The museum argues it has legal ownership but the family’s lawyer David Boies disagrees.

He said: “This is an issue that is critically important not only in terms of trying to right terrible wrongs that had their origin in the Nazi persecution of the Jews but also to establish principles that are very important to what’s happening now in the world.”

A California court’s decision in 2018 that the case should proceed under US Federal law rather than California State law seemed to have ended the matter in the museum’s favour.

Pissarro Rue Saint Honore Dans Lapres Midi. Effet De Pluie Nazi Looted Art Spain
Rue Saint-Honore dans l’apres-midi. Effet de pluie’ by Pissarro. Picture : Thyssen Museum

But now a US Supreme Court ruling has referred it back to the Californian court, opening up the possibility that the Thyssen museum will have to return the masterpiece to the heirs of Cassirer. She had inherited the piece in 1926, but had to hand it over to the Nazis in order to get visas for her and her family to leave Germany in 1939.

After the war she received the modern equivalent of $250,000 in compensation from the German government, but never gave up her claim to the painting.

The artwork resurfaced in the United States in 1951, where its ownership changed hands several times.

It was finally bought by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza for $300,000 in 1976 and was eventually transferred to the Thyyssen Museum in 1993.

Representatives of the museum remain confident they will retain ownership of the piece, despite the Supreme Court ruling.


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