“Bergère rentrant des moutons (Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep)”

Léone Meyer is suing OU for the painting “Bergère rentrant des moutons (Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep)” by French impressionist Camille Pissarro. Before World War II, Meyer’s family owned the painting. During the war it was stolen by Nazis. Now the painting hangs in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, where it was donated by its last owners Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer. OU won’t give the painting back to Meyer until the matter’s been decided in court.

Our View: We overstepped the truth of a story about art with Nazi-era connections at an OU museum with the story's headline, but we will continue to report on the matter.

The Daily recently published an article about art pieces at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art with a headline that undeniably overstepped the truth of the story. As you can read in the letter to the editor that ran Thursday from Mark White, interim director of the museum, the headline “OU museum houses 40 pieced with Nazi connection from WWII” was misleading and inaccurate.

As White explains in his letter to the editor, we discovered that 40 pieces of art at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art are listed on an online database documenting art with Nazi-era provenance. That simply means the art was created prior to 1946 in Europe and changed hands sometime during 1932-1946. The database does not specify whether Nazis looted those 40 pieces.

We reported on the prevalence of Nazi-Era provenance art in American museums, localized with the number of pieces of art housed in Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art because we believe it is important to discuss the fact that art with possible connections to WWII are commonplace in American museums. The story clearly explains that artwork with possible Nazi ties is prevalent all over the U.S.

Obviously, this is a complicated issue causing discussion not just on our campus, but also across the country and the world. Anytime there’s been an injustice that robbed people of their property—such as with the Jewish people after World War II or with Native Americans once colonization of North America began--there’s some discussion about whether they should get that property back. At what point has the property legally switched hands so many times that it would be unfair to give it back to the original owners? That’s what the courts are trying to determine, and the outcome depends on each individual situation.

But that wasn’t why we wrote the story. We wrote the story because of the amount of interest in the one piece of art housed in the museum, “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep” by impressionist Camille Pisarro, that was involved in a lawsuit with OU.

We wrote the story because few people understand that although it’s unfortunate that so many pieces of potentially looted art hang in American museums, checks are in place to make sure museums handle such art responsibly and ethically. Currently, an Oklahoma lawmaker is asking the American Alliance of Museums to check if Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art has been handled that way.

Although we overreached with our headline, The Daily will continue to report on art in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and on the artwork included in the Nazi-era provenance database in particular.

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