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El Pissarro del Thyssen: chronology of a legal dispute that began two decades ago

1939: Lilly Cassirer Neubauer sells the painting below its market value to Jakob Scheidwimmer, art dealer and member of the Nazi party, in order to obtain a visa to flee Germany and avoid the camps of extermination. The painting was later acquired by Julius Sulzbacher, from whom it was later confiscated by the Gestapo.

1950: Lilly Cassirer Neubauer initiates litigation in Germany to recover the painting, whose whereabouts she does not know.

1951: The painting is acquired at the Frank Perls gallery in Beverly Hills (United States) by the North American collector Sydney Brody.

1952: Frank Perls puts the painting up for sale, commissioned by Sydney Brody, at the Knoedler Gallery in New York (United States). That same year, the painting was acquired in that gallery by an important collector from Missouri (United States), Sydney Schoenberg.

1958: Lilly Cassirer Neubauer reaches an agreement with the German Government, with the art dealer Jakob Scheidwimmer and with Julius Sulzbacher, for which she accepts compensation of 120,000 German marks from the German Federal Government, a figure that it is proven that it corresponds to the market value at that time. Of that figure, he gives 14,000 German marks to the Sulzbacher heiress. That agreement ended all claims between the parties. As of that date, neither Lilly Cassirer Neubauer nor her heirs made any further efforts to locate or recover the painting.

1976: Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza buys the painting from another respected gallery, the Stephen Hahn Gallery in New York. In the following years, the painting was exhibited as part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Lugano (Switzerland) and until 1990 it was included in temporary exhibitions in seven countries (Australia, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain). The Collection is widely publicized, and is the subject of much interest and publication. Neither the baron's title nor his good faith in acquiring the painting was ever questioned.

1993: The Spanish State agrees to the sale of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, which is carried out by means of a contract signed on June 21, 1993 with the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation and Favorita Trustees Limited, legitimate owner of the work and with full capacity to transmit it. The sale was carried out after a 'due diligence' on the legitimacy of the sellers' title to sell the Collection. That 'due diligence' does not reveal any irregularity in the seller's title. The acquisition by the Foundation under this purchase agreement is, therefore, fully valid, effective and unassailable under Spanish law, which is the law applicable to the sale.

2002: Forty-four years after the settlement agreement between Lilly Cassirer Neubauer and the German Government, twenty-six years after the acquisition of the painting by the Baron and nine years after its purchase by the Foundation, the Cassirer family claims, for the first time, the return of the painting. The Foundation rejects the claim.

2005: Claude Cassirer files a lawsuit in California.

2010: Claude Cassirer dies at the age of 89. His children David and Ana continue the litigation, with the support of the United Jewish Federation (of San Diego County).

2012 (June): The Court of the Central District of California dismisses the lawsuit filed in 2005 by the Cassirer family against the Spanish State and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, due to prescription of the action .

2014 (July): The California Court of Appeals reverses the decision of the District Court and remands the case. The judgment of the Court of Appeal is based on a procedural issue, but does not prejudge the merits of the matter.

2015 (June): The District Court issues a ruling on the merits in which the lawsuit is dismissed on the understanding that in any case the Foundation would have acquired the painting, in accordance with the Spanish Civil Code, for usucaption. The heirs of Claude Cassirer are appealing to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Federal Circuit. The Jewish Community of Madrid and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain appear as interested third parties. In that appeal, the plaintiffs introduce for the first time the argument that if the baron did not have a valid title to sell (which he did, in the opinion of the Foundation), the Foundation could not have acquired the property by usucaption if it were understood, effects of article 1956 of the Spanish Civil Code that in the acquisition of the painting in 1993 the Foundation could be considered an accomplice or abettor of a crime of a crime against property. The argument is untenable, in the opinion of the Foundation, because neither the Baron nor the Foundation have ever been accused, much less convicted, of such a crime.

2017 (July): The Court of Appeals reverses the sentence and, without prejudging the merits of the matter, orders the District Judge to re-examine the case to determine if there are grounds to qualify the Foundation of accomplice or cover-up of a crime against property. According to the Court of Appeal, the law applicable to the acquisition of the painting by the Foundation is Spanish, and according to the Spanish Civil Code, the Foundation would be the owner in any case, even in the event that the baron had not been legitimate. holder when he sold it, by usucapion (possession for three years with good faith and fair title, or for six years without any other requirement), unless the Foundation could be considered an accomplice or abettor of the aforementioned crime.

(September): The Thyssen-Bornemisza Foundation requests the reconsideration of the decision of the Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit of July and the Spanish State appears in the case as 'amicus curiae' ( third party unrelated to the litigation) to support the Thyssen Foundation. The Kingdom of Spain appears in the procedure, as 'amicus curiae', to explain, on the basis of a report from the State Attorney's Office, that the interpretation of the Spanish Civil Code defended by the Cassirer family was untenable because article 1956 of the Code Civil is not applicable in the absence of a sentence declaring that there has been a crime.

(December): The Court of Appeals denies the request for reconsideration.

2018 (April): The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, supported by the State Attorney, goes to the US Supreme Court.

(May): The US Supreme Court withdraws from the case.

(December): The trial is held before the District Court.

2019 (April): Judge John Walter issues a ruling on the merits, based on all the allegations and the evidence presented, by which he decides to dismiss the lawsuit in its entirety and declare the legitimate property of the Foundation on the painting.

(December): Judge John Walter dismisses the Cassirer family's claim and confirms that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation is, under Spanish law, the rightful owner of the painting. The Court considers that neither Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza nor the Foundation were aware at the time of acquisition that the painting was stolen or that there was a high risk or probability that it was, and rejects the claimants' allegation that the Foundation be considered an 'accessory' of any crime against property.

2020 (August): The United States Court of Appeal unanimously rejects the arguments of the plaintiffs and recognizes the Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza as the legitimate owner of the painting by Camille Pissarro.

2021 (October): The Supreme Court of the United States admits an appeal (writ of certiorari) in the case of Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, nº 20-1566.

2022 (January): The hearing of the case begins in the Supreme Court of the United States. It is discussed which jurisdiction should apply: whether the Spanish – which considers that the painting should remain as part of the collection – or California, where Cassirer moved. The magistrates of the high court listen to the arguments of the two parties. The decision will take months to arrive.

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