Wednesday, January 19, 2022
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments today regarding the ownership of the painting, Rue Saint Honoré in the Afternoon: Effect of Rain by Camille Pissarro (left, courtesy of the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum). The Cassirer family purchased the painting from Pissarro's art dealer and displayed it at their homes in Germany. However, the Jewish family was forced to turn it over to the Nazi government in exchange for exit visas from Germany during World War II. After the war, the Cassirers were unable to locate the painting and accepted $13,000 in reparations from the German government in 1958, but did not relinquish their right to seek the return of the painting. The painting's current value is estimated at $30 million.
Forty years later, family members living in California discovered the painting was hanging in Madrid's Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, which is state-owned. They requested the return of the painting, but the Spanish museum refused, so the family sued in California court. The main issue is whether California law or Spanish law should be used to determine the painting's ownership. In bringing suit, the Cassirer family is relying on an exception to the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which permits suits against foreign state entities for property that was taken in violation of international law. The California court determined that Spanish law applies, awarding the ownership of the painting to Spain and the Cassirers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision is expected later this spring.