As she fled the Nazis, German-Jew Lilly Cassirer was forced to sell “Rue Saint-Honoré, après-midi, effet de pluie” (1897) by Camille Pissarro. Cassirer sold the oil-on-canvas masterpiece to a Nazi art appraiser well below market value ($360) to secure safe passage out of Germany during the Holocaust. The Impressionist painting, whose value today could exceed $40 million, changed hands several times before it ended up at Spain’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
The total number of works stolen by the Nazis has been estimated at around 650,000. The Nazi-era (1933-1945) saw an unprecedented spoliation of art in Europe that helped bankroll the Nazi war machine. Last month, a federal appeals court in California revived a lawsuit by Cassirer’s great-grandchildren seeking the Pissarro painting from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation in Madrid.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that under the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act of 2016, the lawsuit was timely because it had been filed within six years of the Cassirers’ discovery that the painting was at the Thyssen-Bornemisza. The HEAR Act gave the Cassirers six years from the date they discovered the location of the painting to start a legal claim.
On September 15, the Federal Bar Association will present “From Murder to Museums: Current Controversies over Nazi-Looted Art.” Attorney Raymond J. Dowd (Partner, Dunnington, Bartholow & Miller LLP) will explore the dark story of Hitler’s beneficiaries and why the world’s museums and private art collectors are still fighting to hold on to the spoils of war. Register for the Annual Meeting and Convention at www.fedbar.org/FBACon17.
This image-packed presentation will interpret the latest restitution laws that help return Nazi-looted art to its true owners; issues surrounding documentation, identification, and provenance; post-World War II U.S. museum acquisition practices; conflict-of-laws questions; and the impact of the HEAR Act of 2016.
The HEAR Act is an effort to standardize the statute of limitations, allocating a six-year window for legal claims to be filed following the discovery of artwork or lost property. Legislators unanimously cast their ballots in favor of justice for Holocaust victims with the passage of the Act. The relevance of this bipartisan law cannot be understated: it comes at a time when some museums that were once on board with restitution have decided to assert technical defenses against claimants. Museums have also become less forthcoming with provenance information that could help Holocaust survivors and their heirs trace the history of a contested work of art.
Prior to passage of the Act, institutions and collectors often relied on legal technicalities to block claims, invoking the statute of limitations that was typically three or four years after a person “reasonably” could have discovered where the art was.
Sign up for the Federal Bar Association’s Annual Meeting and Convention, which runs from September 14 to 16, to partake in this developing discussion concerning Holocaust-related art restitution. Take advantage of early bird rates by registering on or before Friday, August 4 at www.fedbar.org/FBACon17.
Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, patent, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.