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January 20, 2014 10:39 pm

Oklahoma University Art Museum Sued for Painting Stolen by Nazis

avatar by Joshua Levitt

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French impressionist Camille Pissarro's 'Shepherdess Bringing In Sheep' that was stolen by the Nazis. Photo: Screenshot.

Oklahoma University and its Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art are being sued by a French woman who claims a painting in its collection was stolen from her father by the Nazis, according to the UK’s Daily Mail on Monday.

Leone Meyer, daughter of Raoul Meyer, a Jewish businessman living in Paris, during the Nazi occupation of France, is suing the school to recover an 1886 work by French impressionist artist Camille Pissarro called ‘Shepherdess Bringing In Sheep.’

The Daily Mail said the university has so far refused to return the work, citing a previous court ruling in Switzerland that denied the family’s claim based on its timing. The fact that the Nazis stole the painting is not in dispute, it said.

After Paris fell under Nazi control, German troops began looting thousands of artworks from museums, galleries and personal collections across France. Before the German invasion, the Meyer family was part owner of Groupe Galeries Lafayette, an upscale French department store. Raoul Meyer amassed a large collection of French impressionist paintings that were seized during the Nazi occupation.

After the war, Meyer, who survived the occupation, spent years trying to track down the artwork that had been stolen, the Daily Mail said.

In 1953, he sued Christoph Bernoulli, a Swiss art dealer who had bought the painting, but a Swiss judge dismissed the suit, saying Meyer filed his complaint after a five-year window for such lawsuits had passed.

The painting then made its way to an art gallery in New York, where oilman Aaron Weitzenhoffer and his wife, Clara, bought it in 1956. When Clara Weitzenhoffer died in 2000, it was among 33 pieces of art left to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

According to the Daily Mail, Max Weitzenhoffer, their son, said his parents never knew about the painting’s connections to Nazi art theft, but encouragingly said he didn’t know of any provision in his mother’s will preventing the university from returning the painting to the Meyer family.

Meanwhile, school officials questioned whether the university is legally required to return the painting, arguing that the dismissal of the family’s 1953 lawsuit in Switzerland should bar the family from making the same claim 60 years later.

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