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US Supreme Court agrees to hear case on Nazi-looted Pissarro painting

Court says it will hear appeal by heirs of German Jewish woman and a San Diego Jewish organization over artwork that was initially taken by Nazis and now hangs in a Madrid museum

This May 12, 2005 file photo shows a visitor viewing the Impressionist painting called "Rue St.-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie" painted in 1897 by Camille Pissarro, on display in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. (AP Photo/Mariana Eliano, File)
This May 12, 2005 file photo shows a visitor viewing the Impressionist painting called "Rue St.-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie" painted in 1897 by Camille Pissarro, on display in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. (AP Photo/Mariana Eliano, File)

The US Supreme Court announced Thursday that it will hear an appeal dealing with the restitution of art seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust, one of five new cases on its calendar for the term that begins next week.

The court agreed to hear an appeal from the heirs of a German Jewish woman and a San Diego Jewish organization in their quest to recover a valuable painting by Camille Pissarro that was initially taken by the Nazis and now hangs in an art museum in Madrid.

A US appeals court ruled unanimously last year that the painting, which a Jewish woman traded to the Nazis to escape the Holocaust in 1939, may remain the property of a Spanish museum that acquired it more than a half-century later.

At stake is “La Rue St. Honoré, effet de Soleil, Après-Midi, 1898,” an oil-on-canvas work of a rain-swept Paris street that Pissarro painted as he gazed at the scene from his hotel window. Its value has been estimated at $30 million.

Lilly Cassirer’s father-in-law bought it directly from Pissarro’s art dealer and left it to her and her husband when he died.

In 1939, she traded it to the Nazis in exchange for exit visas for herself, her husband and her grandson, who eventually settled in the US. Her great-grandson, David Cassirer of San Diego, has continued the litigation since his father’s death.

Neither Cassirer’s heirs nor Spain’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum dispute the painting’s early history.

What’s at issue all these years later is whether Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza made any serious effort to determine the painting was looted art when he acquired it from a New York gallery owner for $275,000 in 1976.

Also whether Spanish curators did their due diligence in tracing its provenance when a Spanish nonprofit foundation acquired it and hundreds of other paintings from the baron’s collection in 1992 and created the Madrid museum that bears his name.

Lilly Cassirer’s heirs say she spent years trying to recover the painting before concluding it was lost and accepting $13,000 in reparations from the German government in 1958.

It wasn’t until 1999 that her grandson, Claude, who had vividly recalled seeing it hanging in the family’s German home, discovered it in the Madrid museum. After Spain refused to hand it over, he sued.

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