02/07/2020

FTMS obtains a landmark decision before the Court of Cassation on the restitution of looted works of art

  • Court decisions
  • Press release

In today’s ruling (July 1st, 2020), the French Supreme Court (“Cour de Cassation”) definitively restored the legitimate rights of Simon Bauer’s descendants, a victim of spoliations by the Vichy government.

The painting “La Cueillette des Pois”, painted by Camille Pissarro in 1887, which had been looted in 1943, reappeared in Paris in February 2017. A wealthy American couple was claiming its ownership. The tribunal and then the Paris Court of Appeals had already ruled that “La Cueillette des Pois” belonged to Simon Bauer’s descendants and had ordered its restitution. In a very remarkable decision of 11 September 2019, the Court of Cassation had refused to refer the case to the Constitutional Council as requested by the owners.

In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time, in accordance with the arguments of Carole Thomas-Raquin, a lawyer at the Supreme Court acting in the Bauer family’s interest, that the Order of April 21st, 1945, which declared spoliations perpetrated during World War II null and void, applied to successive resales without any time limit and that the holders were deemed to be acting in bad faith.

This decision, which can be described as historic, provides an indisputable legal basis for all actions currently underway aimed at restoring to their rightful owners looted works of art held illegally by amateurs who are trying to take advantage of their good faith.

FTMS (Cédric Fischer, partner, and Margaux Compagnon, associate) with Carole Thomas-Raquin, lawyer at the Court of Cassation, advised the descendants of the Bauer family in this case.

About the case:

Collector Simon Bauer had seen his collection of 93 major art works looted in 1943 by the administrator appointed by the Vichy government’s Jewish Affairs Commission.

As early as September 1944, with the help of his lawyer, Henri Delmont, he initiated proceedings and, on November 8, 1945, had the fraudulent sale of his collection annulled.

After various incidents, the painting by the painter Pissarro “La Cueillette des Pois” had been bought at auction by a wealthy American household, the Toll couple, through Christie’s auction house.

Exhibited at the Musée Marmottan as part of the exhibition “Pissarro, le premier des impressionnistes”, the painting “La Cueillette des Pois” had been placed in escrow by order of the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance on May 30, 2017.

The Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance, in a judgment dated November 7, 2017, recognized the rights of Simon Bauer’s descendants to the painting and ordered its restitution.

By judgment of October 2, 2018, the Paris Court of Appeal upheld this judgment. The Toll couple lodged an appeal (“pourvoi en cassation”) to the Supreme Court and filed a preliminary ruling on constitutionality arguing that the Order of April 21st, 1945 was contrary to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789.

The Supreme Court ruled on September 11, 2019 that this request was not serious and refused to transmit it to the Constitutional Council.

On July 1st, 2020, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal against the ruling of October 2, 2018 and confirmed the return of the painting to Simon Bauer’s descendants.

Before the Paris tribunal and the Court of Appeal, the Bauer family was represented by the law firm FTMS Avocats, and in particular by Cédric Fischer, Bauer family’s historical lawyer.

Before the Supreme Court, the Bauer family was represented by Carole Thomas-Raquin, attorney before the Supreme Court (avocatauxconseils@htrlg.fr).

See the press release

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