Camille Pissarro was a painter that lived from 1830 to 1903 and made a significant impact on art history. A Pissarro painting can range from the Impressionist style to Neo-Impressionism but he’s most well-known as the Father of Impressionism as a founder of the movement. He remains the only artist to have ever shown his work at all of the Paris Impressionist exhibitions.
What many people forget, though, is that some of Pissarro’s art was nearly lost to time. His lost and found paintings are among his most beautiful. This the story of the art that was nearly buried in the annals of history.
Why Was Pissarro’s Art Lost?
The temporary loss of Pissarro’s art came at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. In the early 1930s, anti-Semitic laws forced Jewish art owners to give up their art at minimal prices, no matter what the actual worth of their art was.
As Jewish people were forced to flee Germany for other parts of Europe, they were unable to bring all of their possessions along with them. In other cases, Jewish people were taken from their homes by Nazis, forcing them to leave with only what they had on them at the time. In both cases, possessions of worth were stolen from the homes for the monetary gain of either the individuals or the Nazi party. This included many of Pissarro’s works.
Many of the stolen artworks were originally housed in key locations such as Munich and Paris, where the Nazis had control of the region. As the Allies began liberating Europe, many of these looted valuables were housed in secret salt mines and other locations where the Allies would be less likely to find them.
Some stolen artworks were even acquired by high ranking members of the Nazi party, where they kept them as parts of their private collections. Other works deemed “degenerate” were even sold to international collectors to build the German war-fund.
Recovery of the Artworks
As World War II drew to an end, the process of recovering stolen valuables begun. In the decades following the war, several Pissarro works were found in galleries and museums across the globe. In some cases, legal action was brought to return the artworks to their rightful owners.
After being discovered as stolen artworks, many paintings were returned to the descendants of those from whom the works had originally been stolen. Once returned, some of the artworks were then gifted to museums and galleries where they remain to this day. This has allowed the artworks to be viewed widely, ensuring the legacy of Pissarro lives on.
Examples of Found Pissarro Paintings
Pissarro’s 1897 painting, Rue St. Honoré, Apres Midi, Effet de Pluie, was found in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. A legal battle ensued in 2011 when the Spanish government refused to return the painting at the request of an American ambassador. A trial in the United States found that the museum was indeed the rightful owner of the painting.
A similar legal battle occurred when Pissarro’s Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps resurfaced after being missing for many years. It was discovered that the painting had been donated to a trust by a Nazi art collector after the seizure by the Gestapo during the war. After being rediscovered in 2007, the process to track down the rightful heir was started.
There were several other Pissarro paintings lost during the lootings of World War II. The 1897 work, Le Boulevard de Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps, was restituted in 2000 when it was found to have been forcefully sold to the Nazis. Similarly, Le Marché aux Poissons was returned after being missing for more than three decades. It was returned to the French ambassador, a symbolic act of returning the work to Pissarro’s home country.
The legacy of Pissarro’s artistic career is not limited to his artworks alone. While his artworks continue to be regarded as some of the most influential impressionist paintings of the era, they are also remembered for their cultural significance. The loss of Pissarro’s artworks stood as a recognition of the crimes of the Nazi regime.
Even decades after the war, Pissarro’s artworks continue to be recognized as a symbol of the survival of democracy. Each missing Pissarro painting that has been recovered comes with a story that has reminded critics and collectors of its importance. Despite years of being missing, these works were given justice by being returned to their rightful owners.
The devastation of World War II was not lost on the art world. Many works were lost through destruction and theft during the war, with some never being recovered. The Pissarro paintings lost during the war have been recovered in recent decades, putting them back in the rightful hands of private collectors and museums.