Woman Sues University of Oklahoma over Stolen Artwork

Leone Meyer, a French woman, recently filed a lawsuit against the University Of Oklahoma (OU) in an attempt to recover a 128 year old piece of art. The artwork was taken from her family by the Nazis during the Second World War.

The impressionist painting known as Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep by Camille Pissarro, is displayed in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in OU.

During the Second World War, German troops seized the artwork from Meyer’s father, a local businessman Raoul Meyer, owned a collection of French impressionist paintings. The lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that the painting had been listed as being a stolen piece of art. The lawsuit also alleges the artwork has entered the United States without the knowledge or consent of the family in 1956.

The painting was purchased by Aaron Weitzenhoffer, an oil executive, from an art gallery in New York in 1956. The art was donated to the university after Weitzenhoffer’s widow once he 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, the University Herald reports.

In the university’s defense, they have not returned the painting after a Swiss judge dismissed a suit filed by Raul in 1953. The Swiss judged allowed for 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 said.

The University said that the paintings will be returned only on the orders by the court.

Paul Wesselhoft, a Republican legislator from Oklahoma City, is urging the university officials to return the painting by saying that keeping the painting even after the disclosure of its rightful owners causes humiliation 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.”

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE