Paris (AFP)

French justice will designate Thursday the legitimate owners of three paintings of the fauviste Derain, cutting a dispute between the heirs of a collector of Jewish art spoliation and museums that exhibit for years these paintings.

More than 75 years after the Occupation, the descendants of the great Parisian gallery owner René Gimpel are still waiting to recover all the works stolen or disappeared in the tumult of war. After years of investigation, they claim to have found three Derain, acquired by their grandfather in 1921 in Paris.

They claim to the Ministry of Culture the restitution of these paintings painted between 1907 and 1910, "Landscape in Cassis", "La Chapelle-sous-Crecy" and "Pinède, Cassis", exhibited for the first at the Museum of Modern Art of Troyes and for the third at the Cantini Museum in Marseille.

They rely on this for an order of April 1945 on the nullity of the acts of spoliation.

These works have traveled, changed their name, sometimes been rentoilées: at the hearing, June 25, the lawyers of the ministry and museums had questioned the concordance between the works claimed and those acquired by René Gimpel.

For the lawyer of the Ministry of Culture, Me Aurélien Burel, the pieces provided by the family do not allow to form a "certainty". He claimed that the "stock book" presented by the Gimpel family was in fact "just a movement book" of works between Paris and New York, where René Gimpel's father once shared a gallery with the merchants Wildenstein.

The lawyers of the museums also defended the legality of their acquisitions, doubting that one could qualify as "forced sale" that of the "Pinède", orchestrated by resistant and close to Gimpel.

The Gimpel family, who found traces of the paintings according to exhibitions, denounced the bad grace of the French state. She says she has been met with hostility from museums since 2013 and is outraged by the inertia of France, yet signatory to the Washington Agreement of 1998 on the compensation of spoliations.

"The paintings are changing all the time of names.You will sell better a + Landscape to girls + a + Landscape with cows + ... Gimpel was a merchant and he knew it", had reacted his granddaughter Claire Gimpel-Touchard , deploring the lost time "when it would have been enough to go to the family archives in London".

A few months ago, the French justice confirmed - on appeal - the return to his descendants of a gouache of Pissarro, "The picking", owned by Americans who had bought it legally by auction. The latter appealed on points of law.

© 2019 AFP