A federal judge in California has dealt a blow to a Jewish family's prolonged battle to regain ownership of a painting now on display in a museum in Spain that was seized from a woman fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. The judge found that under Spanish law, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid is the rightful owner of Rue Saint-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie, an 1897 masterpiece by Camille Pissarro. The family's attorney promised to appeal the ruling, saying the museum's position is "morally and legally wrong." "Museums and governments around the world recognize the need to return Nazi-looted art to its rightful owners," attorney Laura Brill says. "The museum is not doing the right thing."
Brill represents Ava and David Cassirer, the Americans whose great-grandmother, Lilly Cassirer, was forced to hand over the Pissarro to the Nazi government in 1939 in exchange for $360 and a visa to leave the country. Lilly Cassirer said that after the war, she accepted about $13,000 in restitution in the German courts after unsuccessful attempts to find the painting. Unbeknownst to her, the painting surfaced in the US in 1951 and was bought in 1976 by a German baron. In 1993, the Spanish government paid $338 million for hundreds of the baron's artworks, including the Pissarro, for display in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Her grandson, Claude Cassirer, found out about the painting after a friend saw it in the museum in 2000, setting off the legal battle. (Read more Nazi Germany stories.)