Stolen Nazi art causes controversy on campus

"Shepherdess Bringing in the Sheep" is on display in the Fred Jones Art Museum. The painting was stolen by Nazis during World War II and an aircraft will fly above OU's campus with a banner reading #returnthestolenart written on it during the football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2015.

OU President David Boren said the university would not return a French oil painting, stolen from its original owners by Nazis during World War II, until the matter has been decided in court.

Giving away the donated painting, called “Shepherdess Bringing In Sheep,” would set a bad precedent for the university and would not be fair to the painting’s donors, Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer, Boren said in a statement to the Daily.

The painting is currently on display at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

Leone Meyer, the daughter of the painting’s former owner, filed a lawsuit in May claiming the museum is in wrongful possession of the 1886 painting “Shepherdess Bringing In Sheep,” according to court documents. 

Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer, longtime university donors, donated the painting by French impressionist Camille Pissarro in 2000 to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

Max Weitzenhoffer, Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer’s son, was 14 years old when his parents bought the painting, he said.

In the 1950s, Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer offered the painting back to its original who didn’t accept, OU regent Max Weitzenhoffer said.

“The owner had ample opportunity to get the painting back,” Max Weitzenhoffer said.

Max Weitzenhoffer said aside from his parents donating the painting to the museum, he has nothing to do with the case. However, Max Weitzenhoffer said Meyer’s suit doesn’t have merit.

In a similar 2007 lawsuit against actress Elizabeth Taylor, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Taylor to keep a Vincent Van Gogh painting after an appeal from a Jewish woman who said she was coerced into selling it in Nazi Germany in 1939, according to a Reuters article.

Max Weitzenhoffer alluded to the case when he said Meyer’s suit didn’t have merit.

Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, protested and handed out fliers at the Warren Theater on Tuesday encouraging audiences of  “The Monuments Men” — a film about saving Jewish art from Nazis in World War II — to petition Boren for the painting’s return from the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art to the family of its original owner.

“We know the exact date that it was stolen and we know that he owned it,” Wesselhoft said. “I think it’s the right and moral thing for OU to return this painting back to the Meyer family.”

Wesselhoft plans to boycott the museum until the painting is returned, he said, describing the painting’s presence as a “scar” on the museum.

“Even if OU wins this in the court, they will lose it in the court of public opinion because I believe most Oklahomans want the painting returned to its original owner,” Wesselhoft said.

Boren said university officials don’t want to keep any items that don’t belong to the university and will immediately comply with whatever the courts rule.

“The university and the donor are strongly opposed to the theft of art by the Nazis,” Boren said.

Matt Woods is a public relations junior who covers the diversity beat as a reporter for The Daily's campus desk. This is Matt's first semester at The Daily (and he's really excited about it.)

Ethan Koch is a broadcast journalism junior and diversity beat writer for The Daily. This is Ethan's first year at the Daily, but he's picking up the pace writing briefs and features for the Campus Life desk.

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