PARIS – A painting by impressionist master Camille Pissarro seized from a Jewish collector in France in WWII has turned up in an exhibition in Paris, where relatives are seeking its return from a US couple who have loaned it.
“La cueillette des pois” (“Pea Harvest”) painted with gouache by Pissarro in 1887, has been found on display at the Marmottan Museum in the French capital.
Simon Bauer was among Jews rounded up in the Drancy internment camp outside Paris in 1944, but he escaped being deported to the Nazi death camps because of a train drivers’ strike. A year earlier his art collection, including the Pissarro, had been confiscated and sold by an art dealer designated by officials from France’s war-time Vichy regime.
On being released in September 1944, Bauer immediately began looking for his paintings, but he had only recovered a small part of his collection of 93 canvases by the time he died in 1947. His relatives have continued the search, and his grandson Jean-Jacques Bauer, now 87, recently learned that “Pea Harvest” was on display at the Marmottan as part of a Pissarro retrospective.
The painting is on loan from a US couple named Toll who bought it at Christie’s in New York in 1995.
Bauer’s descendants had lost the trail of the canvas for half a century.
In 1965 they heard about an under-the-counter sale involving it and another painting, but the American dealer who had just bought them got away when a judge ordered their release. The paintings were then sold again at Sotheby’s in London in 1966.
On Friday Bauer asked a top Paris court to order that the painting not be allowed to move, pending further action to determine its ownership.
In the meantime, “this picture must remain in France,” said his lawyer, Cedric Fischer, whose great-grandfather advised Simon Bauer.
Faced with this “complicated historical, factual and legal situation … the French judge must be able to rule calmly, without haste,” he added.
The US couple have opposed the request to block movement of the painting. The court has said it will rule on May 30.
The Marmottan has agreed to keep the canvas until the end of the Pissarro retrospective on July 2, said the museum’s lawyer Eric Andrieu.