Dispute Over Pissarro Portray Looted by Nazis Is Again in Courtroom
When Léone Meyer discovered in 2012 that a painting that Nazi looters had stolen from her father was in the collection of an American museum, her first instinct was to demand his return.
But Ms. Meyer, who lives in Paris, and the Fred Jones Jr. Art Museum at the University of Oklahoma reached an agreement in 2016: the 1886 painting “La Bergère Rentrant des Moutons” or “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep”; ”By Camille Pissarro, would be on display in a museum in France for five years and then switch every three years between the university and one or more French institutions of Ms. Meyer’s choice. Ms. Meyer, who is 80 years old, also agreed that she would give the painting to an art institution in France either during her lifetime or in her will.
In 2018, Ms. Meyer, a Holocaust survivor who owns the painting, attempted to donate it to the Musée d’Orsay, where it has been on display for its permanent collection since 2017.
The museum declined, however, and informed Ms. Meyer that it did not want to assume the cost and risk of transporting the painting to America every three years, which would have been necessary under the terms of the settlement (Ms. Meyer had insured the painting during this time temporarily issued). Ron Soffer, an attorney for Ms. Meyer, said any other French institution she offered it to would likely do the same.
Ms. Meyer, who owns the painting, is now trying to prevent it from being displayed at the University of Oklahoma, where it is expected to return in July. She has also filed a lawsuit in France for permanent ownership without rotation.
However, the university disagrees that the French museum’s refusal to accept the work – and the possibility that the painting could stay in America indefinitely – are reasons behind the cancellation of the original contract.
Ms. Meyer “is now inexplicably trying to break an agreement” that was heralded as a unique international art exchange agreement between the US and France, “said the university president Joseph Harroz Jr. and the University of Oklahoma Foundation president and CEO Guy Patton said in a statement Thursday.
The university has recognized that the painting was stolen from Ms. Meyer’s father by the Nazis, but said in previous legal proceedings that it did not want to return the work due to procedural rules and statute of limitations. It has also been proven that the previous owners, the Weitzenhoffer family, who bequeathed it to the university in 2000 and bought it from a New York gallery, had acted in good faith.
Ms. Meyer’s attorney, however, said a July Supreme Court ruling found that owners of stolen art must return the work to its rightful owner free of charge, regardless of how they owned it.
Mr Soffer said Ms Meyer had offered a compromise for a partner exhibition between the university and the Musée d’Orsay, where the university’s French museum would lend other work such as a painting by Renoir. But the university’s position is that the deal is closed.
“With all the good faith that the OU Foundation and the University of Oklahoma have passed on to Ms. Meyer, it is disappointing that she is actively working to revoke the agreement,” the statement said. “We are ready to challenge this unjustified threat in US and French courts.”
The case is due to be heard in a French court in January.