Supreme Court sides with family seeking return of painting stolen by Nazis

The Cassirer family has spent decades trying to recover the painting.

Updated: April 21, 2022 - 9:01pm

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The Supreme Court on Thursday revived a legal dispute over the ownership of a valuable impressionist painting that the Nazis confiscated in 1939.

The 1897 oil painting “Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain,” by French impressionist Camille Pissarro, once belonged to Lilly Cassirer, a German Jew, who surrendered it to the Nazis to obtained the documents she needed to flee, according to the Associated Press.

Lilly's great-grandson David is now battling with the Spanish Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, which possess the painting, for its return.

The family previously believed the painting had been lost. But David's father, Claude Cassirer, discovered it in the museum in 2000. The family has been trying to reclaim it ever since.

In an unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court decided the lower court erred in determining that Spanish property law applied to the case as opposed to the law in California, the case's venue. Under Spanish law, the museum would have been the rightful owner.

The ruling does not immediately return the painting to the Cassirer family but remands the case to the lower court where it must reevaluate its opinion based on California law.

Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the opinion, stated the “path of our decision has been as short as the hunt for Rue Saint-Honoré was long; our ruling is as simple as the conflict over its rightful owner has been vexed.”