OU Reaches Settlement With Family Over Controversial Painting Once Looted By Nazis

KGOU 23 February 2016
By Brian Hardzinski  
  • Bergère rentrant des moutons (Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep), 1886
 Oil on canvas, 
18 1/4 x 15 in.
    Camille Pissarro (
France, 1830-1903) / Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art; The University of Oklahoma, Norman Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000

The fate of a painting at the center of a years-long dispute between its former owners and the University of Oklahoma has been settled.

Attorney Pierre Ciric, who represents the family of Léone Meyer, said Tuesday morning the settlement reached between the family, the University of Oklahoma, and the OU Foundation acknowledges all parties - including the Weitzenhoffer family, who donated the painting to OU – acted in good faith.

In December, the Tulsa-based online news outlet The Frontier reported a proposed settlement agreement had been reached, and negotiations of a final agreement were ongoing.

The 1886 oil painting Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep is part of a collection of French Impressionist art donated to the University of Oklahoma by the family of the late Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer. The settlement transfers 100 percent of the title of the painting to Meyer, and future display will be accompanied by a label establishing provenance and as much history as known.

The painting will stay on permanent public display, and available for educational purposes. Ciric said once the final paperwork clears, the painting will be sent to a museum in France to be displayed for five years, then it will be rotated between museums in France and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman. He said in a phone conversation he wasn’t in a position to name the museum that would exhibit the painting, but said it would likely go on display this summer.

Ciric says Léone Meyer was grateful for the support she received, both from Oklahoma lawmakers and the public, as well as for the recognition and acknowledgement of what happened to art owned by Jewish families during World War II.

During the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, the U.S. State Department and several professional museum organizations agreed to a set of principles regarding how to handle artwork plundered by the Nazis during their occupation of several European countries. Ciric said his firm counts about 39 to 40 cases of Nazi-looted art over the past 18 years. He says typically the litigation can last anywhere from 8-12 years. The legal process in this case took three.

“This one is relatively short by these standards,” Ciric said. “Everybody wanted to find common ground. That rarely happens.”

The negotiations between OU and the Meyer family were mediated by Agnes Peresztegi, an attorney who works for billionaire art collector and political activist Ronald Lauder in New York. That process is rare in Nazi-looted art cases. And there was no financial transaction between OU and the Meyer family, Ciric said.

“And I think the key to mediation, in terms of both the University and my client, was the notion that everybody acknowledged that public display was really important for the future,” Ciric said. “This is not a situation where the painting was going to be ending up either in somebody’s collection or somebody’s kitchen.”

OU President David Boren said he’s pleased the parties reached a constructive agreement.

“The rotating display of the work meets the University’s long-stated goal to ensure the painting remains available to Oklahomans and that it continues to be available for educational purposes,” Boren said in a statement.

Last year, state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Oklahoma City, introduced a resolution directing OU to return the painting. Wesselhoft is leading a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the state Capitol, along with the president of OU’s Holocaust Remembrance and Restitution Society.
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