A long legal battle over a Pissarro painting in an American museum collection was ended by a French woman in her 80s whose adoptive parents owned the work until Nazi occupation.
Léone-Noëlle Meyer found out in 2012 that her family's Nazi-looted painting was held in the University of Oklahoma's Fred Jones Jr Museum, but the statute of limitations for her to reclaim it had expired, sparking legal wrangling for almost a decade.
A US court said she had violated a settlement agreement from 2016 in which the painting would rotate between the U.S. and France. Meyer lost a recent court battle to keep the work at the Musée d'Orsay, where it is currently on display, until July. The museum in Paris had declined the shipping costs and risks of sending the work across the Atlantic every 3 years, as Meyer's agreement with the Oklahoma museum stipulated. When she fought for the work to stay in France, the University of Oklahoma threatened to sue her for millions if she did not end her legal action in the long-running case, according to the BBC.
Meyer’s lawyer, Ron Soffer, said in court: "A transaction is sacred, but what is more sacred still is returning an asset looted by the Gestapo.”
Meyer has now transferred ownership of the Pissarro to the University of Oklahoma Foundation, in an agreement that stipulates the painting will either be donated to a French institution or the U.S. Art in Embassies program in order for it be shown on a rotating basis in both France and Oklahoma.
La Bergère Rentrant des Moutons (Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep) was stolen from the Meyer family by Nazi officers in 1941, later resurfacing in Switzerland. An American couple purchased the painting and gifted it to the Fred Jones Jr Museum in 2000.
Meyer's biological family perished in the Holocaust. Her adoptive parents were Raoul Meyer, who ran the Paris department store Galeries Lafayette, and Yvonne Bader, the daughter of the store’s founder.