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Court orders France to return art to Jewish collector’s heirs

Early 20th century paintings by Andre Derain were taken as spoils in WWII after their owner, Rene Gimpel, was denounced by a rival dealer for joining the resistance

Claire Gimpel arrives in the Paris appeals court courtroom for the opening of a trial with members of her family, descendants of Jewish art collector Rene Gimpel, who filed suit against the state for restitution of three Andre Derain paintings looted during WWII in Paris; June 25, 2019. (Jacques DEMARTHON/AFP)
Claire Gimpel arrives in the Paris appeals court courtroom for the opening of a trial with members of her family, descendants of Jewish art collector Rene Gimpel, who filed suit against the state for restitution of three Andre Derain paintings looted during WWII in Paris; June 25, 2019. (Jacques DEMARTHON/AFP)

PARIS, France — A Paris appeals court on Wednesday ordered the French state to return three art canvasses to the heirs of a Jewish collector who died in a German concentration camp in 1945.

The artworks by Andre Derain are housed at the modern art museum in Troyes and the Cantini museum in Marseille.

They had initially been in the collection of Parisian gallery owner Rene Gimpel, who was denounced by a rival dealer after joining the resistance against Nazi occupation and France’s collaborationist Vichy government.

The works, painted between 1907 and 1910, were taken as spoils when he was arrested.

In Wednesday’s ruling, the court overturned the judgment of a lower court which last year rejected a bid for the artworks’ restitution to Gimpel’s heirs.

Illustrative: The painting Le séchage des voiles (The Drying Sails) by artist André Derain, painted in 1905, oil on canvas, now at the Pushkin Museum, Moscow. (Wikipedia/public domain)

The lower court had found there were doubts about the authenticity of the paintings, but appeals judges said there were “accurate, serious and consistent indications” that the works were the same ones taken from Gimpel.

“This is great,” said Corinne Hershkovitch, a lawyer for Gimpel’s heirs, who are still trying to recover other works in his collection.

“The court agreed on the points we put forward and we are very happy to be recognized,” she said.

Gimpel, of Jewish descent, was a prominent art collector in the early twentieth century. He fled Paris early in World War II and headed for the French Riviera.

He was arrested in 1944 and deported to Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, Germany, where he died the following year.

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