Photo: Everett - Art/Shutterstock

Judge Rules That Spanish Museum Is Rightful Owner of Looted Nazi Painting

by Eben Diskin May 1, 2019

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid will be allowed to keep a controversial painting after a 14-year legal battle. When Lilly Cassirer tried to flee Germany before World War II, she was forced to trade a valuable Camille Pissarro painting — the “Rue Saint-Honore in the Afternoon. Effects of Rain” — for her freedom. That painting has since ended up in the Spanish museum though the family of Cassirer staked a claim to the painting and hasn’t stopped trying to recover it. Even though it was technically acquired through Nazi looting, the museum is not obligated to return the painting.

According to Spanish law, if a museum didn’t know that an artwork was looted when they acquired it, they are legally entitled to keep it. That law is, however, at odds with the Washington Principles — an international agreement to return Nazi-looted art to the descendants of those from whom they were taken.

While the judge ruled in favor of the museum, he also said that Spain’s insistence on keeping the painting was “inconsistent” with the agreement, which is found upon a moral principle that art confiscated from Holocaust victims ultimately belongs to their families.

The decision leaves open the possibility of an appeal though it’s unclear whether the family will pursue that avenue. Steve Zack, the Cassirer family’s lawyer, told AP, “We respectfully disagree that the court cannot force the kingdom of Spain to comply with its moral commitments.”


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