The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan is giving new life to a Holocaust survivor’s attempt to retrieve a Camille Pissarro painting stolen from her father by the Nazis that now resides at the University of Oklahoma.
The suit brought by Leone Meyer, 75, whose father Raoul owned Pissarro’s 1886 “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep,” had been filed in New York, but the Court of Appeals ruled the suit could be transferred to Oklahoma.
The Swiss denied Raoul, who died in 1970, a request for the painting’s return in 1953 when he sued Christoph Bernoulli, a Swiss art dealer who had bought it. A Swiss judge claimed that the five-year window for such lawsuits had passed.
According to Swiss records, the owners of the painting after the war had properly established ownership rights.
Oil tycoon Aaron Weitzenhoffer’s wife Clara donated the painting to the University in 2000, 44 years after they bought it. Her son Max has said his parents did not know the Nazis had stolen it and added that he knew of no provision in his mother’s will preventing the university from returning the painting.
University President David Boren and the University are named as defendants in the lawsuit; last year, Boren said the university did not want to set a precedent by giving away something that had been bequeathed to it simply because someone had claimed it. He claimed sovereign immunity, and added that Meyer sued in New York so she would not be subject to Oklahoma’s statute of limitations standards, which are more stringent.
Oklahoma University spokeswoman Catherine F. Bishop stated on Saturday, “The University is continuing its efforts to work with the plaintiffs to determine all the facts in this matter, some of which may still be unknown, and to seek a mutually agreeable resolution.”
A resolution in the state Legislature has been offered to force the school to relinquish the painting. Meyer, who lives in Paris, wrote a letter to the people of Oklahoma stating that her effort “has nothing to do with money. It is about justice and a duty to remember.”