Four lawmakers are calling on University of Oklahoma officials to return a painting that Nazi troops stole from a Jewish family in Paris during World War II.
A resolution directing OU officials to return Camille Pissarro’s “Shepherdess Bringing In Sheep” to the Meyer family was introduced Monday in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Leone Meyer, a member of the family, is suing OU in New York federal court to recover the painting, which is hanging in OU’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, said he hoped the nonbinding resolution would encourage OU officials to do “the right and moral thing.”
OU President David Boren said the resolution was unnecessary. Boren said the university would comply with whatever decision the court reaches.
OU officials have cited a 1953 ruling in Switzerland that denied the Meyer family’s claim. That ruling was based in part on a finding that the family waited too long to make its claim. The fact that Nazi troops stole the painting from the family is not in dispute.
“The university does not want to keep any items which it does not legitimately own,” Boren said. “However, the challenge to the university, as the current custodian of the painting, is to avoid setting a bad precedent that the university will automatically give away other people’s gifts to us to anyone who claims them.”
Wesselhoft, one of the bill’s four authors, said the fact that the painting is hanging in the museum is an embarrassment to Oklahoma residents and insulting to the state’s Jewish community. Wesselhoft also has passed out fliers in front of Moore’s Warren Theatre calling on the university to return the painting to the Meyer family.