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OU gets Pissarro painting after French heir, Holocaust survivor ends court fight

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Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep

“Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep,” painted by Camille Pissarro in 1886, was plundered by the Nazis. Following a lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma, the painting will be on display at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

French Holocaust survivor and businesswoman Leone Meyer transferred the title of the 1886 Camille Pissarro painting “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep” to the OU Foundation, the university announced Tuesday. 

The painting was looted from Meyer’s father, Raoul Meyer, during World War II and donated to OU in 2000 by Max Weitzenhoffer, a former university regent whose family acquired the painting from a New York art gallery in 1957. 

Although OU never disputed Meyer’s status as a legitimate inheritor of the painting, the agreement recognized the Weitzenhoffer family as “good faith owners.” 

The ongoing legal battle between Meyer and OU started in 2013 when she filed a suit to gain complete ownership of the painting. Although she initially came to the 2016 agreement, she continued fighting for her father's painting after feeling "the moral implications behind how the university acquired" the piece. 

The agreement originally stipulated a three-year rotation between OU’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and agreed that Meyer “is entitled to inherit the painting from her father and his wife, Yvonne Bader, under the law of France.”

OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith wrote in an email that Meyer restated, reaffirmed and amended the 2016 settlement agreement with the university through a “mutually agreed upon modification in order to achieve its goals.” 

Under the new arrangement, Meyer transferred the “title, interests, and all standing in connection” of the painting to the university. In exchange, OU parties committed on Tuesday to identify and subsequently transfer its ownership to a French public institution or the U.S. Art in Embassies program, Keith wrote in the email. 

According to the amended settlement, the Oklahoma parties – OU’s Board of Regents, President Joseph Harroz Jr. and the OU Foundation – assumed all related obligations Meyer had, including maintaining the agreement and a “fine arts insurance in the amount of the current fair market value.”

Meyer is released from all costs and expenses she would be responsible for under the prior agreement, though she agreed to make a one-time payment of  $500,000 to the foundation. Further documents released by the university on Tuesday did not reveal an amount agreed to by the university and Meyer in a quit claim bill of sale.

Since OU parties “do not intend for the OU Foundation to retain title to the painting long-term,” the painting will remain on public display at the Musée d’Orsay and will return to OU’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art to go on public display in July. After three years, the painting will return to France for its rotating three-year public display at a French institution chosen by the OU parties. 

According to the amended settlement, the painting will continue to be on “permanent public display and available for educational purposes” between OU’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and a chosen museum institution in France.

The painting is accompanied by a plaque stating its provenance, acknowledging the Meyer and Weitzenhoffer families’ history and the “OU Parties’ good faith,” according to Keith.

OU Media Relations Kesha Keith wrote in a Tuesday email to The Daily the Amended and Restated Settlement Agreement was effective on May 27, 2021.

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 1:39 p.m. June 1 to reflect the proper spelling of OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith's surname.

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 2:17 p.m. June 1 to add further details about the settlement agreement. 

Marien López-Medina is an international student and United World Colleges alumna from Nicaragua. She is majoring in journalism and nonprofit organizational studies and works as summer news managing editor and fall assistant news editor.

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