Spain and Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection petition US Supreme Court

The Art Newspaper 15 December 2010
By Martha Lufkin

For the first time, they reveal historical evidence that they say show Lily Cassirer received full payment for allegedly Nazi-looted art at fair market value

The US Supreme Court has been asked to review a court ruling which allowed a lawsuit to proceed against the Republic of Spain and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection over allegedly Nazi-looted art. The suit should not proceed because the US statute allowing foreign governments to be sued in the US over wrongful property takings does not apply in cases where the allegedly stolen property was taken by a wholly different government, in this case Nazi Germany, Spain says. The petition to the US high court was filed on 14 December, as the latest move in the lawsuit pursued by the estate of Claude Cassirer, grandson of Lily Neubauer Cassirer, over Pissarro’s Rue Saint-Honore, après-midi, effet de pluie (1897). Cassirer, who initiated the lawsuit in 2005, died in September.

In a statement, Spain and the Foundation commented publicly for the first time on the factual background of the claim, saying that historical evidence shows that in 1958, Lily Cassirer received full payment for the work at its then fair market value, under a legally binding, court-approved final settlement of a lawsuit over the painting in Germany. The settlement barred her from any future restitution claims to the Pissarro, they say, and also resolved a competing claim made by another German Jewish family to the same Pissarro painting.

The Supreme Court should review the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court decision, Spain says, because it raises important questions about the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which bars lawsuits against foreign nations except in limited exceptions. One exception permits lawsuits over takings of property in violation of international law. Cassirer’s claim does not fit this exception, Spain says, because there is no claim in the case that Spain contributed to the alleged loss of the painting to Nazis, or otherwise wrongly took it. The Court should also review the decision because it conflicts with State Department policy, Spain says, arguing that according to the State Department, an alleged wrongful property taking must be attributable to the foreign government being sued. Spain and the Foundation also say that Cassirer had to exhaust local remedies in Spain before he sued in the US.

The representatives for the claimant did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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