MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

March 19, 2014

Attorney says OU wants painting lawsuit dismissed

OKLAHOMA CITY  — A woman who claims the University of Oklahoma has artwork that was stolen from her family by Nazis during World War II has not proven she is the lawful or sole heir, a university attorney told state lawmakers Wednesday.

OU attorney Shawnae Robey gave members of the House Government Modernization and Accountability Committee a status update on the case. Robey said the university and the OU Foundation, which owns the painting, have asked a federal judge in New York to dismiss Leone Meyer’s lawsuit involving an 1886 oil painting by Camille Pissarro entitled, “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep.”

Meyer said the painting belonged to her adopted father, but Robey said the lawsuit does not outline the painting’s ownership or the Meyer family’s 1953 unsuccessful legal case that found someone else was the good faith owner of the painting.

“The full history of the painting’s ownership history is not yet known,” Robey said. “Simply transferring the piece without first knowing all the facts would, among other things, set a very poor precedent and risk disgracing all prior good-faith purchasers and owners of the panting.”

While questioning Robey about the case, lawmakers asked whether the university had a moral obligation to return looted art. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, said eight or nine other painting in the OU collection have also been identified as possibly stolen.

“If you have something that is stolen, you just don’t give it back to anyone,” Robey said. “We have to be very cautious.”

Meyer’s attorney, Pierre Ciric, dismissed claims that Meyer had not established her relationship to her adopted father, Raoul Meyer, and her legal right to the painting he once owned.

“It’s ludicrous,” Ciric told The Associated Press during a phone interview. “Obviously her intent is to recover the painting. She is not interested in any financial aspects. She wants her panting back.”

Meyer’s biological family was killed at Auschwitz, according to an open letter she wrote to the people of Oklahoma. She was never captured and was later adopted by Raoul and Yvonne Meyer.

Raoul Meyer fled to the United States after Paris fell, but returned to Europe in 1945 and found the painting missing. He discovered it in Geneva six years later — a year after the statute of limitations ran out. He claimed subsequent owners made a weak attempt to prove the Pissarro wasn’t on a list of known Nazi-looted works.  A Swiss court found that post-war owners had done due diligence and rejected Raoul Meyer’s claim.

Oklahoma oil tycoon Aaron Weitzenhoffer and his wife, Clara, purchased the painting from a New York gallery in 1956. When Clara Weitzenhoiffer died in 2000, the painting was among more than 30 works totaling $50 million that she donated to the university.

Leone Meyer’s lawsuit, filed in May 2013, states that “minimal ownership information” was provided for the Pissarro painting and others in the collection.

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