Fifteen heirs to a German collecting couple are seeking to restitute a Camille Pissarro painting. The heirs brought the lawsuit in the Federal District Court in Atlanta, claiming that a family in the Georgia city owns the work. The new was first reported by the New York Times.
The work in question is Pissarro’s 1903 harbor scene painting The Anse des Pilotes, Le Havre, painted in the final year of the artist’s life. According to the suit, the work was purchased by German collector Ludwig Kainer in 1904 from the artist’s son. It was most recently displayed at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in 2014.
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The group of heirs—who are residents of Massachusetts, Florida, Australia, Chile, the Netherlands, Germany, and Bolivia—consist of grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Kainer, as well as the descendants of cousins of his wife Margaret, who was Jewish.
In the suit, the Kainers’ heirs claim that the Pissarro work could be held by the couple Gerald D. and Pearlann Horowitz, their son Scott, or their family foundation, and that the work may be somewhere in or around Atlanta. “Upon learning of the Horowitzes’ possession of the Painting, the heirs of the Kainers demanded the immediate return of the Painting. The Horowitzes have refused to acknowledge the Plaintiffs’ claim or to return the Painting,” the complaint reads.
The Kainers owned over 400 artworks, much of which Margaret had inherited from her father, Norbert Levy. Ludwig Kainer purchased the Pissarro prior to his marriage to Margaret. In 1932, Margaret and Ludwig Kainer traveled to Switzerland to receive medical care. Because of how quickly the Nazi party rose to power, they never returned to Germany. Instead, they moved to France, where they lived until their deaths (Ludwig in 1967 and Margaret in 1968). At some point in the years following their relocation from Germany, the Kainers’ art holdings were seized by the Nazis and subsequently auctioned. The Pissarro work that the Kainers’ heirs are attempting to reclaim was sold at auction in 1935.
After World War II, the Kainers registered the Pissarro work with the French Department of Reparations and Restitutions, which included it in a 1948 directory of stolen art. The Kainers didn’t have children together, and both died without a will.
The suit claims that Gerald purchased the painting in 1995 from Achim Moeller Fine Art, a New York–based art dealership, and that Horowitz and Moeller allegedly were aware of the painting’s status as a looted artwork at the time of the sale. Joseph A. Patella, a lawyer for the Horowitz family, told the Times that the family had no comment on the new lawsuit.
In emails to the Times, Moeller said, “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.”
According to the Times, others have also claimed to be the heirs of the Kainers. A Swiss family foundation, founded by Margaret’s father Norbert Levy in 1927, has received “proceeds from the sales of some artworks that had belonged to the Kainers as well as war reparations from the German government,” according to the Times report. The heirs disputed this, telling the publication the foundation in its current form is a “sham.”