Oklahoma University, French woman in tussle over Nazi-looted painting

"Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep" by Camille Pissarro was donated to the University of Oklahoma's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in 2000.

"Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep" by Camille Pissarro was donated to the University of Oklahoma's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in 2000.  (University of Oklahoma)

A French woman who says a painting was stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II has filed a lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma in a bid to get the 128-year-old piece of artwork back. 

Leone Meyer is suing the university in federal court to recover the impressionist painting, "Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep" by Camille Pissarro, which is on display in OU's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

According to Reuters, when Paris fell during the war, German troops looted artwork owned by Meyer's father, local businessman Raoul Meyer, who had a large collection of French impressionist paintings. 

The lawsuit alleges the painting had been registered as stolen artwork that once belonged to the family and entered the United States without the family's knowledge in 1956, Reuters reported.

The Pissarro painting reportedly had several owners over the years and was purchased from a New York art gallery by oil executive Aaron Weitzenhoffer in 1956. The piece was among 33 paintings donated to the university after Weitzenhoffer's wife died in 2000.

"Oklahoma, as most U.S. jurisdictions, has accepted the common law rule that no one, not even a good faith purchaser for value, can obtain good title to stolen property," according to court documents filed for the family and obtained by the news agency.  

The university says it is honoring the outcome of a court case from 1953 in which a Swiss judge dismissed a suit filed by Raoul Meyer and allowed the painting to remain in the United States.

"The highly regarded Jewish family from Oklahoma who gave the painting to us also had friends and family members endangered at the time of the Holocaust. They are deeply opposed, as is the University, to the theft of art by the Nazis," University President David Boren told Reuters in a statement.   

The school has said it will return the painting if ordered to do so by the court, according to the report. 

Meanwhile, Paul Wesselhoft, a Republican legislator from Oklahoma City, is sponsoring a resolution calling for the painting to be returned. He told Reuters that keeping the piece on display would be an embarrassment for the state and the school.   

"It is the right and moral thing to do for OU to return this painting to the Jewish family from which the Nazis plundered it," Wesselhoft said. "Keeping this painting is an embarrassment. I'm ashamed that it's in the museum."

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