Nazi-looted Pissarro painting becomes the subject of a lawsuit in Atlanta

A lawsuit has been brought in the Federal District Court in Atlanta, Georgia, by over a dozen heirs of a German Jewish couple, Ludwig and Margaret Kainer, whose painting by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was looted by the Nazis. The lawsuit named as respondents three members of the Horowitz family in Atlanta, Gerald D. and Pearlann Horowitz, and their son Scott, who they claim are in possession of the painting, which is now believed to be worth $500,000-$1 million.

The painting is Pissarro’s The Anse des Pilotes, Le Havre, which was completed in the final year of the artist’s life. Pissarro’s last series of landscape paintings all depict the harbour at Le Havre. He arrived in Le Havre in June 1903, and took a room at the Hôtel Continental overlooking the harbour. His balcony offered an impressive view of the waterfront, and he painted a number of landscapes, one of which is now in the Tate collection.

According to The New York Times, artist and film director Ludwig Kainer purchased this painting from the artist’s son in 1904. In 1932, Ludwig and Margaret Kainer travelled to Switzerland from Germany to receive medical care and, due to the Nazis rapid rise to power, they never returned to Germany. The Kainers then moved to France where they resided until their deaths in the late 1960s. Their collection, however, remained in Germany, and was seized by the Nazis and auctioned off. The Pissarro painting in question appeared in an auction in 1935 and, following the Second World War, the Kainers registered the painting with the French Department of Reparations and Restitutions, which included it in the 1948 directory of stolen art. The painting also appeared in the Pissarro catalogue raisonné of 2005, which described the work has having been plundered from L. Kainer.

The painting reemerged in late 2014 at an exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The Mondex Corporation, an art recovery company representing the Kainer heirs, spotted this, and contacted the Horowitz family, who lent the painting to the museum, requesting the painting’s return. The lawsuit claims that, “Mr. Horowitz was unwilling to confirm whether his father still possessed the painting” and that he, “refused to disclose its whereabouts”.

The lawsuit also indicated that Gerald D. Horowitz purchased the painting from the New York art dealer Achim Moeller Fine Art in 1995. Moeller has stated that, “I can say that my gallery did exercise care and due diligence into the provenance of artworks at that time and has since then,” adding, “I would never have knowingly sold a work of art that had been stolen in Germany during that time.”

This case certainly demonstrates the complexities of claims associated with Nazi-looted art. To further complicate the matter, a Swiss family foundation founded by Margaret Kainer’s father Norbert Levy in 1927 has also claimed to be rightful heirs to the Kainer property. The heirs filing the suit in Atlanta dismiss this claim, indicating that the foundation in its current form is not entitled to the Pissarro painting.

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