Spanish Museum and Kingdom of Spain win ten-year legal dispute over ownership of Pissarro painting



June 10, 2015

Chief Communications Officer
Allison McClain
amcclain@nixonpeabody.com
617-345-1128

Camille Pissarro, Rue Saint-Honore, après-midi, effet de pluie (1897)
Camille Pissarro, Rue Saint-Honore,
après-midi, effet de pluie
(1897)

Los Angeles, CA. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has ruled in favor of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation and the Kingdom of Spain in an artwork dispute that has spanned a decade.

In its June 4 order granting the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation’s motion for summary judgment‎, the U.S. District Court confirmed that the Foundation is the rightful owner of the oil painting by Camille Pissarro, Rue Saint-Honore, après-midi, effet de pluie (1897). The Foundation oversees the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, one of the three major museums in Madrid, Spain. The Foundation won this case on successful merits from its team of attorneys Thaddeus J. Stauber and Sarah E. André of Nixon Peabody LLP in Los Angeles, CA, and Pedro Alemán Laín and Javier Martínez Bavière of Pedro Alemán Abogados in Madrid, Spain, with assistance from international provenance research and legal team members Laurie Stein, Lynn Nicholas, Dr. Wolfgang Ernst, Professor Alfonso-Luis Calvo Caravaca, Professor Mariano Yzquierdo Tolsada, and Ms. Adriana de Buerba.

This case has been reviewed twice by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—including review by the en banc court—and was referred by the U.S. Supreme Court to the U.S. solicitor general, for his views in response to the Foundation’s petition for a writ of certiorari. At all stages, this action has dealt with issues of first impression and/or constitutional challenges. The parties submitted cross-motions for summary judgment in March. The District Court, ruling on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims, held that Spanish law should be applied to the facts and that, under Spanish law, the Foundation is the owner of the painting. The court also held that application of a recently amended statute of limitations violated the Foundation’s due process rights.

Independent historical research demonstrated that in 1958, following ten years of litigation in Germany, the plaintiffs’ family was fully compensated by the German government for the loss of the painting. Thereafter, the plaintiffs’ family did not take any action to try and locate the painting or to seek further recovery until lodging a petition with the Spanish Government in 2001.

The Pissarro painting was acquired by Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, in good faith, in 1976. It was later acquired by the Foundation, in good faith, in 1993, when the Baron’s collection came to Spain through a well-documented purchase. Prior to the Baron’s acquisition, the painting was the subject of numerous documented transactions, involving distinguished collectors and reputable galleries, for fair market value. In 1954 the painting was pictured and identified in an international art periodical as part of the collection of a prominent collector in St. Louis. This collector was a decorated World War II veteran and a member of the Jewish community.

The Foundation’s collection has an extensive worldwide public exhibition and publication history and has often been exhibited in museums in Australia, Japan, England, Italy, Germany, France, Denmark, the United States, and Spain. The painting (and its provenance) has been regularly published in exhibition catalogues and scholarly studies of Pissarro and of Impressionist art. It has been on continuous public display for years in Madrid at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, where it can be seen today.

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