RETURN OF NAZI-LOOTED ART: PROOF REQUIRED BEFORE THE FRENCH COURTS.

AuthorRedmond-Cooper, Ruth

A recent decision of the Paris Court of Appeal (1) has overturned the ruling of the first instance court in a case concerning a claim for the return of three paintings held in French provincial museums. (2) The Court of Appeal held that the claimants, heirs of the collector and dealer Rene Gimpel, had presented sufficient evidence to establish that the works were part of Gimpel's collection at the time when France was occupied by the Gennans and that he lost possession of them after 16 June 1940 (the relevant date for the purposes of the Ordinance of 21 April 1945): in view of the conditions prevailing at that time, it was not necessary to bring definitive proof in the form of a receipted sales invoice, merely to show reliable, precise and consistent evidence to that effect.

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Rene Gimpel (1881-1945) was a renowned art collector and dealer who was held in high regard in Paris, London and New York before the Second World War. Gimpel was a victim of the anti-Semitic policy introduced by the Germans and the Vichy regime from 1940. He was arrested and imprisoned in France in 1942, deported on 5 July 1944 to the Neuengamme camp in Germany where he died on 1 January 1945. He was also the victim of many confiscations of his property rights and chattels, among which were numerous works of art seized by the occupying forces in the various places in which they had been stored.

Rene Gimpel's successors first sought the return of the looted objects and compensation immediately following the War, then under the compensation legislation implemented in the Federal German Republic from 1957. More recently, on 3 November 2014, in their efforts to locate the looted artworks which had not been returned, Rene Gimpel's successors brought a claim before the CIVS seeking compensation. The CIVS, acknowledging the claimants to be victims of looting resulting from the anti-Semitic legislation in force during the Occupation, and by a decision of 7 May 2019, issued a recommendation in favour of the payment of compensation to be divided amongst the successors of Rene Gimpel and his wife Florence Duveen. This compensation related to 40 works and complemented the compensation previously awarded by the German authorities under the BriiG (Bundesriickerstattunggesetz).

Three works by the artist Andre Derain which had not been included in the previously awarded compensation, but which had been looted from Rene Gimpel between 1941 and 1944, were subsequently located...

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