On Tuesday, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, Spain, gets to keep a priceless painting by Pissaro the Nazis looted from its rightful owner, a German Jewish woman named Lilly Cassirer.
Lilly Dispecker married German Jewish conductor Fritz Cassirer (1871 – 1926). They had one daughter, Eva Charlotte Cassirer, who married her father’s cousin, Friedrich Wilhelm Cassirer (also known as Fritz), who was managing director of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, and Max Reinhardt’s business manager.
In 1900, Lilly Cassirer’s father-in-law, Julius Cassirer, purchased directly from artist Camille Pissarro’s art dealer the painting “Rue St.-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie,” oil-on-canvas depicting a rainy Paris street seen from the artist’s window in 1897.
In case you didn’t know, Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro was born to Frederick and Rachel Manzano de Pissarro, both Jewish. So, a great French Jewish painter sells his lovely work to a wealthy German Jewish buyer.
What marvelous years those were for wealthy Jews in Western Europe. So reminiscent of the marvelous years enjoyed by wealthy Jews in America until very recently. Then came the Great War, followed by harsh economic times, the rise of Fascism and then Nazism—we’re fast forwarding a few decades here—until at some point the Nazis looted the painting from Lilly Cassirer, its rightful owner.
Now the plot is thickening even more: an astonishingly wealthy German industrialist, Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, in 1976 acquired the Pissaro from an American dealer for $300,000. For the record, he didn’t really try to find out where the work came from, much like his Nazi predecessors.
In 1992, Thyssen-Bornemisza sold his entire stash of great works of art for $350 million to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, or simply the Thyssen, an art museum located a short walk from the Prado Museum in Madrid.
Meanwhile, Lilly Cassirer’s heirs thought the painting had been lost, and in 1958 accepted from the German government $13,000 in reparations. But in 1999, a friend of the family discovered the work in Madrid, and they sued, with decisions and appeals that have so far lasted 20 years.
Now comes the part where the bad guys win: on Tuesday, Los Angeles US District Judge John F. Walter ruled that “the court finds that there were sufficient suspicious circumstances or ‘red flags’ which should have prompted the baron to conduct additional inquires as to the seller’s title,” and yet, the judge concluded that Thyssen-Bornemisza and the museum that bears his name did not know the work was looted, which under Spanish law means the museum can keep it.
Steve Zack, an attorney for Lilly Cassirer’s great-grandson, David Cassirer of San Diego, stated: “We respectfully disagree that the court cannot force the Kingdom of Spain to comply with its moral commitments,” but stopped short of indicating his client would appeal the ruling. It’s the kind of decision that could ruin a man financially – and there’s no reason to expect a higher court would care to step on the laws of a foreign country.
And now comes the truly bad, even nasty part, the sound of satisfaction from the attorney for the murderers, which is priceless on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day:
The Museo’s attorney, one Thaddeus Stauber, said in a statement to the Associated Press: “I think it puts an end to [bitter legal fight between the rightful owner and the people who robbed her] because the court conducted, and we conducted, what the appellate court asked us to, which was a full trial on the merits. As a lawyer who has been involved in this case for 14 years, I’m pleased that the court did conduct a full trial. We now have a decision on the lawful owner and that should put an end to it.”
And you thought the Holocaust was over.