LOS ANGELES – An 84-year-old man filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a museum and the government of Spain demanding the return of an Impressionist painting that was allegedly taken from his family by the Nazis.
In his lawsuit, Claude Cassirer of San Diego claims that Camille Pissarro’s “Rue Saint-Honore, Afternoon, Rain Effect” was stolen from his Jewish grandmother through a forced sale and now hangs at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.
“This painting was in my family for four decades before the Nazis stole it,” Cassirer said.
By refusing to return the painting, the Spanish government and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation are “continuing the Nazi legacy instead of going out of their way to repudiate it,” Cassirer said.
David Cassirer, the son of the plaintiff and a family spokesman, estimated the value of the 1897 painting at about $20 million. It depicts a wide Parisian boulevard lined with dark carriages, a few bare trees and a scattering of people braving the weather.
Victoria Riego, secretary to the Spanish consul in Los Angeles, said she could not comment on the suit because the office is unaware of it.
The lawsuit was bolstered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June that allowed California resident Maria Altmann, 88, to sue the government of Austria to retrieve $150 million worth of Gustav Klimt paintings stolen by the Nazis, said Stuart Dunwoody, one of Cassirer’s attorneys.
An estimated 600,000 works of art were stolen by the Nazis during Adolf Hitler’s rule in Germany.
The painting changed hands several times since the war and its whereabouts was a mystery to the Cassirer family until a friend spotted it in the Madrid museum.
It had been bought in 1976 by Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, who owned one of the largest art collections in the world, the suit said. The government of Spain co-founded the collection foundation through its Ministry of Culture.