Regent: Family not liable for art's return

The Oklahoma Daily 18 February 2014

By Kelly Rogers, Campus Reporter

An OU regent and a French lawyer agree on at least one thing: Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer’s family never offered to return a disputed French painting to Léone Meyer and her family.

The Daily quoted Regent Max Weitzenhoffer in Feb. 12 article, saying his parents offered to return “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep” to the Meyer family, who declined the offer.

Meyer’s lawyer, Pierre Ciric, emailed The Daily Friday, saying the two families had never been in contact.

Weitzenhoffer said Tuesday in a second interview, “My clarification is, that [Raoul] Meyer had the opportunity to get the painting back before we ever owned it, but not through us whatsoever.”

Although Weitzenhoffer said he read the article and thought his statement was incorrect, he did not contact The Daily to correct or clarify the statement.

“I was misquoted in that article,” Weitzenhoffer said. “I just didn’t bother to tell [The Daily] because [The Daily] had already written it.”

The disputed painting now hangs in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, and is the subject of a lawsuit between Meyer and the university. Meyer filed the lawsuit in May 2013 to get OU to return the painting, which was stolen by Nazis during World War II, to her family.

OU President David Boren said the painting will not be returned unless the court decides in Meyer’s favor.

Boren said the university will immediately comply with whatever the court rules.

“It would set a bad precedent for the university to voluntarily give away to other people those gifts that have been given to us until all of the legal issues are determined,” Boren said in a Feb. 12 statement.

Ciric said Weitzenhoffer’s quote was inaccurate, according to the email.

“Neither Raoul Meyer, nor his daughter, Léone Meyer, had any contacts with any member of the Weitzenhoffer family, nor were they aware that “La Bergére” had entered the United States,” Ciric said in an email.

On Tuesday, Weitzenhoffer stuck to his assertion that the Meyer family could have gotten the painting back before his parents donated it to the university.

“For 15 years while he [Raoul Meyer] was alive, the painting was hanging around our house, and we never heard anything,” Weitzenhoffer said. “It wasn’t a big secret where it was.”

Meyer’s lawyer said the complaint shows the Meyer family had been searching for the painting since 1945. The Meyers contacted the artist Camille Pissarro’s family in 2000 and 2001, but they didn’t know the painting’s whereabouts.

“My answer is: Why didn’t they approach my mother if they wanted it back?” Weitzenhoffer said.

Meyer sent an open letter to the People of Oklahoma Tuesday, Feb. 11, asking Oklahoman's to consider the historical and emotional context of her lawsuit.

Meyer, who was adopted into the Meyer family after World War II, is the family’s sole heiress. Her efforts to find the family’s stolen or lost artworks since World War II are outlined in the letter.

Raoul Meyer, a Jewish French businessman and avid art collector acquired the painting prior to World War II, according to court documents.

Meyer also explained the emotional impact the painting had on her family.

“This has nothing to do with money. It is about justice and a duty to remember,” Meyer said in the letter.

Weitzenhoffer, who is also Jewish, said his family was personally affected by the war.

“You have to understand that this war touched drastically on my family, too.” Weitzenhoffer said.

Weitzenhoffer said the bottom line is that everyone who was Jewish suffered during and after World War II.

“There are a lot of gray areas to this whole thing,” Weitzenhoffer said. “And, let’s just see where it goes.”
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