When Léone Meyer discovered in 2012 that a painting that Nazi looters had stolen from her father was in the collection of an American museum, her first instinct was to demand its return.
But Ms. Meyer, who lives in Paris, and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, reached an agreement in 2016: The 1886 painting, “La Bergère Rentrant des Moutons”, or “Shepherdess bringing sheep”, by Camille Pissarro, would be exhibited in a museum in France for five years, then would alternate every three years between the university and one or more French institutions chosen by Ms. Meyer. Ms. Meyer, who is 80, also agreed that, during her lifetime or by will, she would donate the painting to an artistic institution in France.
In 2018, Ms. Meyer, a Holocaust survivor who owns the painting, attempted to donate it to the Musée d’Orsay, where it has been on display since 2017, for its permanent collection.
But the museum refused, telling Ms Meyer that it did not want to bear the cost and risk of transporting the painting to America every three years, which would have been required under the terms of the settlement (Ms Meyer had insured the painting while it was on temporary exhibition). Ron Soffer, an attorney for Ms Meyer, said any other French institution she proposed to him would likely do the same.
Ms. Meyer is now seeking to prevent her exposure to the University of Oklahoma, where she is expected to return in July. She also filed a lawsuit in France to obtain permanent ownership without any rotation.
But the university does not agree that the refusal of the French museum to accept the work – and the possibility that the painting could remain in America indefinitely – is grounds for canceling the agreement. initial.
Ms. Meyer is now “inexplicably seeking to sever” an agreement that “was billed as the first international art-sharing agreement between the United States and France,” university president Joseph Harroz, Jr., and the University of Oklahoma Foundation. Chairman and CEO Guy Patton said in a statement Thursday.
The university admitted that the painting was stolen by the Nazis from Ms Meyer’s father, but said in previous legal proceedings that he did not want to return the work because of the rules of procedure and the limitation period. It also provided proof that the previous owners, the Weitzenhoffer family, who had bequeathed it to the university in 2000, having bought it from a New York gallery, had acted in good faith.
But Ms Meyer’s lawyer said a ruling from France’s highest court in July determined that owners of stolen works of art must return the work to its rightful owner free of charge, regardless of how they acquired it.
Mr Soffer said Ms Meyer had proposed a partner exhibition compromise between the university and the Musée d’Orsay, in which the French museum would lend the university other work, such as a Renoir painting. But the university’s position is that the deal is done.
“Despite all the good faith that the OU Foundation and the University of Oklahoma have shown Ms. Meyer, it is disappointing that she is actively trying to reverse the deal,” the statement said. “We are ready to challenge this unjustified threat in American and French courts. “
The case is due to be heard by a French court in January.