Pissarro’s La cueillette des pois
Camille Pissarro’s 'La cueillette des pois' (1887) is the subject of a court ruling in France. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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Earlier this week a French court ruled that it belonged to the descendants of Simon Bauer, an art collector, rather than American couple Bruce and Robbi Toll who bought it for $800,000 at a Christie’s auction in New York in 1995.

The picture, La cueillette des pois painted in 1887, was one of 93 in Bauer’s collection confiscated in 1943 before he was sent to the Drancy concentration camp.

The artworks were taken under anti-Semitic laws passed by the collaborationist Vichy government during the Nazi occupation.

When Bauer was freed, he sought to recover the works and his descendants continued to trace paintings after his death in 1947.

Court seizure

His grandson, Jean-Jacques Bauer, brought the action through the French courts. He began the legal claim after the painting was sent to France to appear at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris for a Pissarro retrospective. The Tolls had loaned the artwork to the museum and a court seized it pending a ruling on its ownership.

Although the court ruled in favour of Bauer, the Tolls have lodged an appeal to the decision. Through their lawyer, Ron Soffer at Soffer Avocats, the couple from Florida contend that they bought the work in good faith from Christie’s and were completely unaware of its wartime provenance.

Soffer said previously that it should not be right that owners of paintings have to pay for the “crimes of Vichy”.

He added: "I believe that this decision could put in potential legal jeopardy any artwork that was purchased in good faith in the last few decades that finds its way to France."