UPDATE: Rep. Paul Wesselhoft is asking residents to contact OU President David Boren’s office to request the return of the painting.
In a statement, he said, “Yes, we understand that there is an antiquated court ruling in Switzerland, which denied the painting to the rightful owners because the established timeframe to make the claim expired. Apparently OU is legally respecting that court decision.”
However, he added it is more of a moral issue.
Wesselhoft is also encouraging everyone to avoid the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art until the matter is resolved.
NORMAN, Okla. – Could artwork once stolen by the Nazis have made its way from France to the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art?
One French woman would say yes, and she’s suing the university to get it back.
We’re talking about Camille Pissarro’s “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep.”
“It’s a wonderful picture,” Emily Neff said, Director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
But, could the history you can’t see in the brush strokes include genocide, Nazis and thievery?
Leone Meyer said that’s exactly the case.
She said the Pissarro painting belonged to their father, Raoul Meyer, until Hitler invaded France.
Documents from the Commission of Art Recovery state in 1940, Meyer’s father, a respected Jewish businessman, hid the “…art collections in a safe location, a branch of the French bank.”
By 1941, Nazis had found it.
They sold the loot to an art dealer in Holland who passed it on to a gallery in New York, David Findlay galleries, Inc.
In the late 1950s, the documents state an Oklahoma couple acquired the art, the Weitzenhoffers.
Their name now hangs on the front of OU’s museum.
In 2000, the family gave the university its art collection, including the Pissarro.
“It’s kind of like I said, the crown jewel of the Fred Jones Museum of Art,” Neff said when speaking about the collection.
Meyer said the university broke the law by failing to check the title and history of the Pissarro painting.
In response, OU wrote:
“While the University doesn’t comment on the particulars of any case, it is important to note that allegations in a lawsuit are just that; the litigation process is designed to test those allegations and uncover all the facts. The University monitors its litigation process closely, respects the complexity inherent in these matters, and continually evaluates its position in light of factual circumstances. We will continue to do the same in this case and look forward to a resolution of the matter.”
Still, for Neff, there’s no denying the collection’s worth.
“For Oklahoma to have this collection for students to have access to this collection,” Neff said, “It’s pretty special. ”
Special yes, but Meyer said she feels Oklahoma displaying Nazis’s stolen goods is also immoral.
NewsChannel 4 reached out to Meyer’s attorney who is based in New York.
He did not return messages.
This isn’t the first time an issue like this has been brought up to OU.
A survey conducted by the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art questioned the museum on matters like this.
“If the museum determines that an object in its collection was unlawfully appropriated during the Nazi era without subsequent restitution, does the museum seek to resolve the matter with the claimant in an equitable, appropriate, and mutually agreeable manner?”
The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art responded by saying, “Yes, if this were to happen.”
Meyer’s attorney requested a jury trial in 2013.
We will keep you updated.