A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled Tuesday that a Spanish museum that acquired a priceless, Nazi-looted painting in 1993 is the work's rightful owner, and not the survivors of the Jewish woman who surrendered it 80 years ago to escape the Holocaust. Per the AP, although US District Judge John Walter criticized Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the German whose name now graces the Madrid museum where the Camille Pissarro painting hangs, for not doing due diligence when he acquired it in 1976, he found no evidence the museum knew it was looted art. Under Spanish law, he ruled, the painting is legally the museum's, though he criticized Spain, calling its decision to keep it "inconsistent" with international agreements that it signed "based upon the moral principle that art and cultural property confiscated by the Nazis from Holocaust (Shoah) victims should be returned to them or their heirs."
The painting at issue, Pissarro's 1897 "Rue St.-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie," was purchased directly from Pissarro's art dealer in 1900 by the father-in-law of Lilly Cassirer, who eventually inherited it and displayed it in her home for years. When she and her family fled the Holocaust in 1939, she traded it for passage out of the country. For years the family thought it was lost, and the German government paid her $13,000 in reparations in 1958. Then in 1999, a friend of her grandson, Claude, who'd seen photos of the painting, discovered it was in the Thyssen-Bornemisza. It'd been hanging there since shortly after a nonprofit funded by Spain bought the baron's entire collection for $350 million and named the museum for him. The painting had been sold and resold after Cassirer and her family fled Germany. The baron bought it from a US dealer for $300,000 in 1976. (Read more Holocaust stories.)