Looted Pissarro work to return to France

La bergère rentrant des moutons, seized by Nazis in 1941, has been hanging in an Oklahoma university museum since 2000

by Victoria Stapley-Brown  |  25 February 2016
Looted Pissarro work to return to France
Camille Pissarro’s 1886 work La bergère rentrant des moutons (Shepherdess bringing in sheep)
A settlement has been reached in a restitution case brought against the University of Oklahoma by Léone Meyer in May 2013 over Camille Pissarro’s 1886 work La bergère rentrant des moutons (Shepherdess bringing in sheep). Meyer—whose entire birth family died in Auschwitz—now holds the full title to the piece, her lawyers announced yesterday, 24 February. The painting, part of a collection belonging to her adoptive parents, was seized in France by the Nazis in 1941 and brought to the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

The work, which has hung in the university’s Fred Jones Jr Museum of Art in Norman, Oklahoma since it was left to the school in 2000, will return to France this summer to be displayed in a public institution for five years. Under the conditions of the settlement, the work will then alternate between display in France and Oklahoma, and will eventually be given to a French institution.

“The settlement accomplishes Léone Meyer’s primary goals of acknowledging her family’s ownership of La bergère and ensuring that La bergère is put on public display for significant periods of time,” reads the statement from Meyer’s lawyers at the Ciric Law firm.

This is not the first legal battle over the painting. According to Ciric, Léone’s father Raoul Meyer, who co-owned the French department store group Galeries Lafayette, unsuccessfully filed a civil case in Switzerland in 1953, after he discovered the work had been acquired by the Swiss art dealer Christoph Bernouilli. But he was unable to prove that Bernouilli acquired the painting in bad faith, the release says.

In 1956, the work was sold by a New York gallery to Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer. It was bequeathed to the university along with 32 other Impressionist works in 2000 by Clara Weitzenhoffer’s estate, and the school has been criticised for the lack of due diligence performed on these pieces. According to the Oklahoma Gazette, concerns over the work’s provenance had already been brought to the museum’s attention in 2010 by a curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Léone Meyer, meanwhile, found La bergère on the Einsatzstab Reichsteiter Rosenberg (ERR) Database, which contains over 20,000 works that the Nazis seized from French and Belgian Jews during the countries’ occupation and were transferred to the Jeu de Paume.

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