The University of Oklahoma has finally agreed to return a priceless painting that the Nazis looted from a Jewish family during World War II.
The school had been tenaciously holding onto the masterpiece despite full knowledge of its Nazi-tainted provenance — arguing that procedural legal technicalities made it totally okay to own stolen goods.
The 1886 painting, called “La Bergère,” or “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep,” was composed by Camille Pissarro, a Danish-French painter who has been called “the dean of the Impressionist painters.”
In the years after World War II, the painting found its way into the hands of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art on the University of Oklahoma’s campus in Norman by way of a generous donation in 2000 from Oklahoma oil tycoon Aaron Weitzenhoffer.
Under a deal reached this week between attorneys for the taxpayer-funded school and Léone Meyer, title to the painting will now transfer to Meyer. She is a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor whose father owned the painting when Nazis stole it.
Meyer doesn’t get the actual Pissarro painting, though.
The agreement stipulates that the artwork will spend five years in a yet-to-be-named museum in Paris, then three years back at the University of Oklahoma, reports Oklahoma City NBC affiliate KFOR.
Thenceforth, the painting will rotate at three-year intervals between the OU campus museum and museums in France.
The agreement also acknowledges that the Weitzenhoffer family had purchased the painting in good faith.
The University of Oklahoma has been the subject of considerable criticism for its unwillingness to part with the painting it received thanks to a chain of ownership which began with Nazi thievery.
Prior to this week’s abrupt agreement, the school and its attorneys doggedly contended in a host of court filings that various legal technicalities such as statutes of limitation allow a state institution to ignore the rightful owner of an artwork whose father’s property was looted by Nazis.
“The university is pleased that a constructive agreement has been reached,” University of Oklahoma president David L. Boren said, according to The New York Times. “The rotating display of the work meets the university’s long-stated goal to ensure the painting remains available to Oklahomans and that it continues to be available for educational purposes.”
When Meyer dies, title to the deed to the painting will pass to the person to whom she wills it. Under the agreement, Meyer and her heirs and successors can donate the painting but they cannot sell or auction it.
“It will not be in Ms. Meyer’s home. It will be on public display, because that’s the way she wanted it,” Oklahoma state Rep. Wesselhoft told KFOR.
“I hope OU learns their lesson and, in the future, does proper research on all of their paintings,” Wesselhoft, a Republican, added.
The bizarre behavior by school officials may constitute an emerging trend.
In July 2014, Joe Mixon, a heralded freshman running back for the Oklahoma Sooners football team, was caught on video in a violent altercation with another OU student, 20-year-old junior Amelia Rae Molitor. During the altercation, Mixon punched Molitor so hard he broke four bones in her face and knocked her unconscious.
Boren witnessed the video with his own eyes.
For this violent beatdown, Mixon accepted a plea deal on a misdemeanor assault charge, and was punished with a year-long deferred sentence, 100 hours of community service and mandatory counseling. He was suspended from the team for the season, but faced no other repercussions. He remained on campus and continuing to attend classes like any other student.
“He is a super, super kid,” Sooners running backs coach Cale Gundy gushed about the vicious, woman-beating student when he returned to the team, according to ESPN.
(Image credit for painting: YouTube screenshot/JordannLucero)