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Spain refuses to return painting looted by Nazis

The Spanish government is refusing to discuss the possible handover of an extremely valuable painting by the impressionist Camille Pissarro which the Nazis took from a wealthy German family in 1939, a lawyer for the family says.

Spain refuses to return painting looted by Nazis
Camille Pissarro's Rue Saint Honoré in the Afternoon - Effect of Rain, painted in 1897. Photo: Wikimedia/Botaurus

The Cassirer family from Munich have been embroiled in a legal battle with the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum since 2006, when Claude Cassirer first discovered Camille Pissarro's 'Rue Saint Honoré in the Afternoon – Effect of Rain' was in the Spanish capital.

The painting, currently valued at €13 million ($16.5 million), was allegedly taken from Claude’s grandmother by Nazis who forced her to sell it to them for a nominal price in 1939.

It eventually came to be owned by Baron Thyssen, who first put it on display in his museum in 1992.

In 2012, a California court rejected the Cassirers’ claims that the painting should be returned to them by the Thyssen Foundation.

But even after Claude’s death, the Cassirers has continued to appeal and file new lawsuits against the Spanish art foundation, prompting Spain’s Ministry of Culture to veto every claim made by the wealthy Munich family.

SEE ALSO: Mystery surrounds €1 billion Nazi art treasure trove

“There’s no denying that the Spanish government has de facto control over the Thyssen Foundation and could return the painting if they wanted to,” Stuart Dunwood, the Cassirers’ lawyer, told Spanish national daily El Mundo.

Officials from Spain’s Ministry of Culture argue that Claude Cassirer’s grandmother Lilly already received 120,000 Deutsch Marks in compensation from the German government in 1958, thus giving up the painting's ownership rights.  

According to the National Archives of the United States, around 20 percent of art in Europe was looted by the Nazis, with over 100,000 items that haven't yet been returned to their rightful owners.

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ART

Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.

mata-mua_gauguin-madrid

In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.

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