Court orders Holocaust art returned

Published: 12/30/2007

A U.S. district court ordered a German baroness to turn a painting over to the estate of a Holocaust survivor.

U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi said in her ruling that Max Stern did not voluntarily sell the painting “Girl from the Sabiner Mountains,” by 19th-century artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter, in 1937.

Rather, Stern was forced by the Nazis to auction off hundreds of works of art from his family’s Dusseldorf art gallery because he was Jewish. Soon after the auction Stern fled Germany, eventually finding his way to Canada, where he became a well-known art dealer.

Maria-Luise Bissonnette, now a resident of Rhode Island, was ordered to turn over the painting, which she inherited from her parents. Bissonnette’s stepfather, Karl Wilharm, a member of the Nazi party, bought the painting at Stern’s auction. The painting was recently appraised at about $94,000.

Stern’s estate found the painting in 2005 when Bissonnette tried to sell it at auction. Stern, who died in 1987, left his estate to McGill and Concordia universities in Montreal and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The schools have continued to try to find about 400 of Stern’s missing paintings.