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French Heir Donates Nazi-Looted Painting to University of Oklahoma

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Ownership of a 1886 artwork stolen by the Nazis, entitled La Bergère or Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep, has been ceded to the University of Oklahoma (OU). In turn, the university and its foundation have both agreed to give up their ownership of the artwork in the future to either a public institution in France or the US Art in Embassies program.

Long and Complicated History

The painting, by famed impressionist Camille Pissarro, was looted from Raoul Meyer during World War II and placed in a vault outside Bordeaux, France. It was then seized in 1941, and spent the 1950s in Switzerland. However, The Art Newspaper reported that it was unrecoverable under Swiss law, even though its theft was not disputed.

In 1957, it was sold to the Wietzenhoffer family, a group of Oklahoma oil barons and philanthropists who later donated it in 2000 to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum at the University of Oklahoma. It was here that Raoul’s adopted daughter, Léone-Noëlle Meyer, demanded that the painting be returned.

Meyer is a Holocaust survivor and one of France’s richest women who lost her entire family to the Nazi camps.

In response, OU argued that Wietzenhoffer purchased the painting in good faith before it was given to the university. 

The two parties reached a settlement in 2016 that saw Meyer as the rightful owner of the painting. In addition, the painting would rotate between France and Oklahoma every three years, after an initial five-year showing at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. 

Failed Attempts to Rehouse Painting in France

Meyer had plans to donate the painting to the Musée d’Orsay. However, the French museum refused the gift, citing insurance concerns and the risk of a perpetual loan agreement. Despite her best efforts to overturn the settlement, Meyer eventually abandoned her efforts.

“After all these years, I have no other choice but to take heed of the inescapable conclusion that it will be impossible to persuade the different parties to whose attention I have brought this matter,” Meyer wrote in a statement, as reported by BBC. “I was heard but not listened to.”

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