A French oil painting from the late 1800s is causing controversy on OU soil, with a remarkable historical background and travel history.
After being looted by Nazis in the 1940s with many other artworks, “La Bergere rentrant des moutons,” more commonly referred to as "La Bergere," painted by French Impressionist Camille Pissarro, found its way to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art after it was given to OU by Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer in 2000.
Leone Meyer, the daughter of its former owner, Raoul Meyer, filed a lawsuit in May 2013 claiming that the painting is “in the wrongful possession of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art,” according to court documents.
Meyer issued a demand for trial by jury against the OU Board of Regents, OU President David Boren and the Findlay Galleries in New York, where the Weitzenhoffers purchased the painting, according to court documents.
HOW IT GOT HERE:
1886 – "La Bergere" featured in the eighth Impressionist exhibition in Paris.
Prior to WWII – Raoul Meyer, a Jewish French businessman and avid art collector acquired "La Bergere" along with other Impressionist paintings.
March 1940 – The Meyer family decided to place their art collection in a safe location inside the French bank, Credit Commerical de France.
February 1941 – Meyer was given notice by Mr. Hartmann, the head of a German financial investigative agency in Paris, that his works of art were subject to seizure and would be moved to Louvre Museum’s annex in the gardens of central Paris.
1941 – "La Bergére" entered the Jeu de Paume, a museum of contemporary art.
1941 - "La Bergére" and the rest of Meyer’s art collection was looted by Nazi Occupation forces in France as part of a campaign of genocide directed at Jews living in France during WWII.
1945 – The French Government created the Commission for Art Recovery to recover looted artworks. This commission received a list of missing art works Meyer lost to Nazi forces four years before, including “La Bergére.”
1946-1949 – Meyer recovers multiple paintings with the help of the CRA, excluding La Bergére.
1946- The United States, France and Great Britian signed the “Tripartite Agreement,” to uphold the policy of restitution of looted assets and to ensure every legitimate owner would be reunited with their art.
Sometime after 1949 – Meyer’s missing artworks that had not been recovered were added to a mass compilation of lost cultural assets, known as the “Registry of Assets Looted in France During the War of 1939 – 1945,” to be further investigated and located. Meyer’s missing piece, La Bergére, was added to this list.
1953- Meyer found his Pissarro to be in the possession of a famous Basel-based Swiss dealer who was considered an enemy and collaborationist personnel involved in art looting by the Art Looting Investigative Unit. After failed attempts to retrieve the painting through judicial action, La Bergére disappeared.
1956 – La Bergére enters the U.S through David Findlay Galleries in New York from an art dealer in Holland. David Findlay Galleries then sold La Bergére to Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer.
2000 – The estate of Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer made a bequest to OU’s Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art, including La Bergére.
December 2012 – Léone Meyer demands the return of the Pissarro painting, but Boren claimed the painting was in the custody of the University of Oklahoma Foundation, Inc. and not the University of Oklahoma as a result of the Weitzenhoffers' bequest.
May 2013 – A lawsuit is filed by Léone Meyer in hopes to retrieve her father’s painting.
Source: Court documents