AuthorHershkovitch, Corinne

In July 2020 France's highest court, the Cour de Cassation, ordered the return of Pissarro's La Cueillette des Pois (The Pea Harvest) to the heirs of the owner from whom it had been seized in 1943. The property rights of victims of spoliation, and their heirs, were held to prevail over the rights of good faith purchasers. The fact that the heirs had received compensation from the French State in respect of their losses did not have the effect of transferring title to the painting to the good faith purchasers, who were required to return the painting to the heirs of Simon Bauer.


The painting had been confiscated on 1 October 1943 by an art dealer appointed as its administrator by the General Commissariat for Jewish Questions (CGQJ). The dealer sold the work on 7 April 1944 and, in accordance with the Ordinance of 21 April 1945, in November 1945 the President of the Tribunal Civil de Seine declared this sale to be void, and ordered the painting to be returned to Simon Bauer. (2) However, the painting was not returned and Simon Bauer's heirs lost track of it. Bauer himself survived the War, but died in 1947 having recovered only a few of the works.


Following his death, Simon Bauer's heirs continued the search and in 1965 they learnt that several paintings which had belonged to their ancestor, including Pissarro's La Cueillette des Pois, had been sold to a New York gallery owner. They therefore started proceedings before the French courts, and the investigating judge in charge of the investigation ordered, as a preliminary step, the attachment of the painting. However, the charges were eventually dropped, and the judge ordered the release of the painting in 1966, with the result that it returned to the New York gallery owner.

Several months later, this same gallery owner consigned the painting to Sotheby's with a view to its sale by auction in London. The Directorate of French Museums having given its approval for the painting to leave France, it left for London where it was sold by Sotheby's to an anonymous buyer.

In 1995, the painting was once again put up for auction, this time at Christie's in New York, where it was bought for USD 800,000 by Philadelphia art collectors Bruce and Robbi Toll who were unaware of its history. In 2017 the Tolls lent the painting to the Musee Marmottan in Paris for an exhibition of Impressionist works. It was recognised by one of Simon Bauer's heirs...

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