Back in 1995, when they spent $800,000 on a work by impressionist painter Camille Pissarro in New York, Bruce Toll claims he had no idea the canvas had been looted by the Vichy regime during World War II. "I just know that I bought the painting from Christie's and that it had been sold by Sotheby's 30 years earlier," the New York art collector told the AP after a court hearing in Paris on Tuesday. "If it had been stolen during the war, it would not have been sold by Sotheby's, then Christie's. At least I would assume that. There was no way I should know that." La Cueillette des Bois was painted by Pissarro in 1887. French authorities confiscated the painting earlier this year, and it will remain in their custody until the case pitting the Tolls against the family of a Jewish collector is resolved.
French authorities seized the painting at the Marmottan museum after Simon Bauer's relatives found out it was on display in Paris as part of a Pissarro exhibition, on loan from the Tolls, and filed a lawsuit to have the work returned. A verdict will be issued next month, but the Tolls' lawyer said he will appeal if his client does not win. Bauer's collection of more than 90 paintings was confiscated in 1943 by the Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis, and sold. After Simon Bauer's death in 1947, grandson Jean-Jacques began the search for the stolen art. He has recovered only a few pieces. A lawyer for the relatives says the painting is now worth about $1.75 million, the price paid by the Tolls for its insurance. He told the AP it was first bought by Vincent van Gogh's brother Theo, who purchased it from Pissarro.