NORMAN — A French woman is appealing to the people of Oklahoma to return a painting that the Nazis seized from her family during World War II.
But officials at the University of Oklahoma, where the painting is now on display, say returning the painting would set a bad precedent that would imply OU would automatically give away any asset that someone claims.
In an open letter to the people of Oklahoma, Leone Meyer, a Jewish woman who lives in Paris, asks for the return of Camille Pissarro’s “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep,” which is hanging in OU’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
In the letter dated Tuesday, Meyer said seeking the return of the painting “carries within it a tremendous emotional burden.”
Written in French and translated into English, the letter recounts Meyer’s own experience in the Holocaust. Her entire biological family died at Auschwitz between 1942 and 1944. Meyer survived the Holocaust and was adopted by Raoul and Yvonne Meyer in 1946.
The painting was part of a larger collection of works that Nazi troops stole from Raoul Meyer during the Nazi occupation of France. Raoul Meyer recovered most of the works, but a few hadn’t been found when he died in the 1970s, including “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep.” In her letter, Leone Meyer said her adoptive parents didn’t often mention the works that went missing.
“They rarely spoke of them, out of concern for me because they knew that my entire family had been annihilated,” she wrote. “There were moments, though when I knew that they had not forgotten anything. And I knew as well that I should never forget anything.”
In 1956, Oklahoma oil man Aaron Weitzenhoffer and his wife, Clara, bought the painting from a New York gallery. The painting was a part of an extensive collection of art the couple amassed over decades.
Clara Weitzenhoffer died in 2000, leaving 33 pieces of art to the OU museum, including “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep.” At the time, university officials called the gift one of the most important collections of French impressionist paintings given to an American public university.