"La cueillette des pois" (Picking Peas) by Camille Pissarro.
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
A famous painting by impressionist artist Camille Pissarro, seized by France’s pro-Nazi Vichy regime over 70 years ago, will be returned to the family of its original Jewish owner after a Parisian court ruled in their favor on Tuesday.
La Cueillette des Pois (“Picking Peas”) was one of more than 90 pieces of art confiscated by the Vichy regime in 1943 from the art collection of French businessman Simon Bauer.
Although Bauer avoided deportation during World War II due to a strike by railway workers, he only managed to recover a small number of the pieces by the time of his death, four years later.
Earlier this year, the collector’s descendants saw an opportunity to reclaim the lost piece, painted in 1887, after learning that it had been lent to the Marmottan Museum in Paris by its current owners, Bruce and Robbi Toll, for a Pissarro exhibition.
The family demanded the painting’s return, relying on an April 1945 ordinance on the invalidity of dispossessed property.
In May, a French court ordered the painting to be impounded pending a final ruling on ownership.
The Tolls purchased the painting in 1995 for $800,000 at Christie’s in New York and claim that they bought it in good faith with no knowledge of its history.
The Bauer family rejected the couple’s claim of ignorance, stating that they were “specialists” and that the painting was registered as looted.
“This is a case full of emotion and drama, but Mr. Toll is not responsible for the crimes carried out by the Vichy regime. He bought it at Christie’s,” said the Toll’s lawyer, adding that Bauer’s descendants have received “fair” compensation from the state for their wartime losses.
According to the 2009 Holocaust Era Assets Conference, approximately 100,000 artworks out of 650,000 seized by the Vichy regime are yet to be returned to their original owners or their heirs.