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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

RI Woman Loses Appeal For Nazi-Era Painting

(CN) - A Jewish art dealer's estate won the rights to a painting wrested by Nazis and auctioned to a German family in 1937. The 1st Circuit rejected the appeal of a Rhode Island woman whose stepfather bought the painting more than six decades ago.

Dr. Max Stern inherited an art gallery in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1934. The Reich Chamber for the Fine Arts forced him to auction most of his collection, including a painting called "Girl from the Sabine Mountains" by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Stern fled Germany and settled in Canada, where he began to place ads and file claims to recover his collection.

When he died in 1987, he bequeathed his interest in the paintings to his estate, which learned in 2005 that Maria-Louise Bissonnette listed the painting for auction in Rhode Island.

It turns out that Bissonnette's stepfather, Dr. Karl Wilharm, bought the painting in the 1937 auction and kept it in his private collection for more than six decades. Bissonnette inherited it in 1991 as part of her mother's estate.

The Stern estate made a claim on the painting, and Bissonnette responded by filing suit for ownership in federal court in Rhode Island.

The appeals court upheld the lower court's conclusion that Stern and his estate "exercised reasonable diligence in searching for the painting" over the years. Bissonnette was unable to convince the court that the estate waited too long to claim the painting.

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