Since June, a group established by the families of survivors of the Holocaust has been trying to get a bill passed to make it easier to obtain the restitution of unlawfully appropriated works (See American Law to Aid Restitution of Looted Works?) The HEAR (Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act) was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate this week and will now be presented to President Obama for its signature into law.
The new law should help the families of people despoiled with the major obstacle to restitution that they currently face: the statute of limitations. When the Act passes into law, the victims and families will have six years from the date of identification and location of the stolen artwork to request that the art in question is identified. Procedures should also be simplified and less costly for the claimants. Ron Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress has often said that the complexity of the American legal system has often caused families to abandon their attempts to obtain restitution.
Since June, the bill has been supported by many politicians and celebrities. British actress Helen Mirren, who portrayed Maria Altmann in Woman of Gold, a film inspired by the story of the restitution of a painting by Klimt, spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on the suffering of the heirs of collectors or gallery owners who were despoiled by the Nazis.
The cases are always extremely complex, particularly when the works are in museum collections, as in the case of Camille Pissarro’s Rue Saint-Honoré dans l’après-midi. Effet de pluie, which is currently under the spotlight. The owner, Lilly Cassirer, had to leave it behind when she fled from Nazi Germany in 1939. The painting is now housed in the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid and Lilly Cassirer’s heirs have been trying for a number of years to have the painting returned. They are currently appealing the decision of the federal court, which had decided in favour of the Spanish museum. The Cassirer case is just one of the many affairs currently being heard (See Heirs of Despoiled Art Dealer Demand Restitution of Eight Paintings).