The tribunal de grande instance of Paris dismissed, Thursday, August 29, the heirs of the collector Rene Gimpel who claimed the return of three paintings of the painter André Derain currently exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art in Troyes and the Cantini Museum in Marseille. For justice, "persistent uncertainties in the identification of paintings" remain even if it recognizes that they belonged to the one who was deported and who died in concentration camp in 1945.
"The court has been too cautious, timid," said Claire Touchard, granddaughter of the collector, "we will appeal and provide more details.This is important for the memory of René Gimpel and for the other families who face the same difficulties ".
Aryanization of Jewish property
It is only about ten years ago that the descendants of René Gimpel have learned the history of these paintings, three beasts of André Derain realized between 1907 and 1910. When René Gimpel acquires them in 1921, he is an art dealer and has several galleries in Paris, London and New York. The photos of the time show the walls of his Paris mansion house covered with remarkable works, including Monet and Derain. We see the three paintings disputed 'Landscape in Cassis', 'La Chapelle-Sous-Crecy' and 'The Pine Forest in Cassis'.
When the war broke out and the Vichy regime introduced antisemitic laws, René Gimpel sheltered his family in a free zone in the south. But Jews are then forbidden to return home. René Gimpel can no longer approach his Parisian gallery. His property and hundreds of works of art are blocked. As early as 1941, the government of Marshal Pétain took measures for the aryanization of the property of Jews who no longer have the right to own or sell.
In the south of France, René Gimpel engages in resistance with his sons. Too old to fight, he funds resistance networks, "including a network called Azure Transport that carries weapons in coal trucks," says his granddaughter.
A gallerist obliged to sell his works of art
Meanwhile, he tries to manage his property thanks to a non-Jewish relative and his governess, both of whom stayed in Paris. René Gimpel asks his old carriers to send his works of art to Cannes, but the German services come to seize dozens of crates before departure. He tries to sell other works by third parties, gallerists who agree to silence the names of Jews trying to sell their goods even at low cost.
The art dealer is arrested, released. He was finally denounced by a colleague in 1944 and deported to Neuengamme concentration camp where he died in January 1945.
For the merchant's family, works lost during the war, whether seized or sold, must be returned to him because the sales of Jewish property at that time were spoliator. The heirs are based on this for an order of April 1945 on the nullity of the acts of spoliation.
But for the state and the museums that bought the three paintings legally, there is no evidence that they were forcibly sold.
"Many contradictions" in the file
"The fate of René Gimpel is really unfortunate but the file presented by the lawyer of his descendants has many contradictions," said Beatrice Cohen, the lawyer of the Museum of Modern Art in Troyes that exposes' Landscape in Cassis', ' La Chapelle-Sous-Crecy ', but who is not the owner. "There is no doubt that Rene Gimpel owned Derain bought in 1921 in Drouot but when the family tries to trace the path of the works until the war to demonstrate the spoliation, the inventory numbers of paintings change, their names change and their dimensions are different. "
And this is what the court held, considering that these uncertainties "do not allow to apply" the order of 1945.
The Gimpel family replies that the merchant has changed the names of the works to better sell them, that the dimensions change because the paintings have been rented over the years. However, it will have difficulty providing evidence of forced sales made illegally during the occupation.
Her lawyer Corinne Hershkovitch has some confidence. "Twenty years ago I lost in first instance in a case of spoliation and then won on appeal," she says.
At least 100,000 cultural goods of unequal value were stolen, seized or forcibly sold during the war, according to the mission responsible for restitution, created in 2019. Nearly half of the works have been returned and thousands more are circulating. on the art market or are exhibited in museums.