The US Supreme Court complicates the future of the Pissarro of the Thyssen Museum
Correspondent in New York
“Can we all at least agree that it is a beautiful painting?” asked Stephen Breyer, judge of the US Supreme Court, on one of the jewels of the Thyssen-Bornesmiza National Museumwhose future is in your hands. Breyer and the other eight magistrates of the high court yesterday heard the arguments of the two parties that were fighting on ‘Rue Saint-Honoré, in the afternoon. rain effect’, an impressionist cityscape executed in 1897 by Camille Pissarro. The descendants of the original owners dispute it with the museum and the Spanish government.
The painting was in the possession of Lilly Cassirer, daughter of a Jewish art collector, and handed him over to the Nazis behind the
German capture of Paris in 1939 to achieve his escape. Cassirer survived the Holocaust and the painting was in various collections until Baron Hans Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornesmiza acquired it in 1976. The work, now worth about €40 million, was sold in 1993 to the Thyssen-Bornesmiza Foundation and to the Spanish state as part of the German industrialist’s collection.
It was in the corridors of the museum where Claude Cassirer, Lilly’s grandson, saw a painting he remembered from his childhood in 1999 and demanded its return. there it started a decades-long legal battle that yesterday reached the US Supreme Court, where, in essence, it was discussed which jurisdiction should apply: whether the Spanish – which considers that the painting should remain as part of the collection – or California, where Cassirer moved. At the moment, the lower US courts have considered the former, but yesterday the Supreme Court justices gave the impression of leaning towards the descendants of Cassirer, who died years after starting the judicial war. “Welcome to the US,” assured the president of the court, Judge John Roberts, to the lawyer for the Spanish foundation, when he assured that a change of status within the US entailed a different legal result. Cassirer’s lawyer, David Boies – a New York “super-lawyer” who is now also representing Virginia Giuffre in her sexual abuse allegations against Prince Andrew – received less inquisitive treatment from the court in a sign that it might favor his position. The decision of the magistrates, however, will still take months to arrive.