US Court Rules a Madrid Museum Can Keep Nazi-Looted Art

( – Museums have many methods of obtaining artwork and artifacts to display and draw in visitors. Some of those pieces may have exchanged hands several times throughout the past several decades, sometimes unscrupulously. That’s exactly what happened with a Camille Pissarro painting, and after a lengthy court battle, it will remain with a Spanish museum.

The artwork in question is Pissarro’s “Rue Saint Honore, Afternoon, Rain Effect” (“Rue Saint Honore, apres midi, effet de pluie”), a French Impressionist painting that depicts a Parisian street. It is currently in the possession of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which claims to have purchased the piece in 1993, several decades after it was looted from its original owner, a Jewish woman named Lilly Neubauer.

In 1939, Neubauer, facing down Nazi oppression, was forced to sell the painting for a sum of 900 Reichsmarks, approximately $360, to obtain an exit visa to avoid the fate many Jews suffered during the Holocaust. While the money was paid out, it was put into an account that the family couldn’t access.

General Director of the museum, Evelio Acevedo, said the German government paid Neubauer’s family, the Cassirer family, “compensation for the market value of the painting,” but the family never waived the right to sue for its possession. Still, the rightful ownership of the artwork remained a contentious issue, and the Cassirers sued for its return in what turned out to be a decades-long court battle.

On Tuesday, January 9, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum has the right to keep the painting in a unanimous decision. At the heart of the decision was the fact that Spanish law indicates ownership as having it in one’s possession for six years, uninterrupted, which the museum did. However, one of the judges, Consuelo Callahan, issued a separate opinion, saying she hoped the museum would do the right thing and return the artwork to the family voluntarily.

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