Art by Pissarro stolen in Holocaust belongs to original owner, French court rules

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A report by Aaron Reich for The Jerusalem Post.

Approximately 100,000 artworks out of 650,000 seized by the Vichy regime are yet to be returned to their original owners or their heirs.A painting stolen from a Jewish art collector during the Holocaust rightfully belongs to his descendants, a French appeals court ruled, the Jewish News Syndicate reported.

The painting, titled La Cueillette des Pois (“Picking Peas”), was painted in 1887 by Camille Pissarro, a Jewish painter from the Caribbean island of St. Thomas who died in 1903. It was part of the collection of Jewish art collector Simon Bauer. However, the painting, along with 92 others, was stolen by the Vichy regime, a Nazi-collaborating government that controlled France during World War II, after the country’s defeat in the early days of the war.

This is similar to what happened to several Jewish art collectors during the Holocaust, many of whom had their paintings stolen or were coerced into selling them due to antisemitic laws passed by the Nazis. Indeed, many of Pissarro’s paintings dissipated during war, and only resurfaced later, with their owners unaware of their history. One lost piece, 1897’s Rue St. Honoré, Apres Midi, Effet de Pluie, resurfaced in a government-owned art museum in Madrid, Spain. Another lost piece from the same year, Le Boulevard de Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps, was found in 1999 in the Israel Museum, its owner unaware of its history.

Many of Bauer’s paintings were returned to him when the war ended, but he never retrieved La Cueillette before his 1947 death, JNS reported.

The painting was eventually purchased at Christie’s in New York in 1995 by Bruce and Robbi Toll, a Jewish couple in the Philadelphia area, who paid $800,000. They claim they did not know the painting was stolen when they purchased it, and appealed after a lower court in 2017 ruled the painting be returned to Bauer’s family.

Bauer’s family found out the whereabouts of the painting in 2017 after the Tolls lent it to the Marmottan Museum in Paris. They went to the French courts to claim ownership of the painting, citing an April 1945 ordinance on the invalidity of dispossessed property.

According to the 2009 Holocaust Era Assets Conference, approximately 100,000 artworks out of 650,000 seized by the Vichy regime are yet to be returned to their original owners or their heirs.



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