OU defends highly-praised international arts agreement: An Analysis
Published: November 14th, 2020
The University of Oklahoma is calling upon the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma and the District Court of Paris to uphold a landmark settlement regarding possession of Camille Pisarro’s Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep (1886).
A settlement between OU, which received the painting in a gift from a family that had acquired the art in a good faith purchase after the Second World War, received worldwide acclaim in the international arts community as a model for how to fairly and justly settle modern-day art restitution cases.
French claimant Leone Meyer, who previously agreed to the terms of the settlement, is now seeking to renege on the legal agreement.
“This misguided attempt to undo the U.S.-French museum-sharing agreement should be alarming to the cultural and international community,” President Joseph Harroz, Jr. and OU Foundation President Guy Patton said in a joint statement on November 3.
“We are confident that the U.S. and French courts will enforce the settlement agreement – which they have previously approved – as it ensures the painting’s history and beauty will continue to be shared with the people of both Oklahoma and France.”
The terms of the written and signed mutual agreement were ratified by U.S. and French courts and ensured that Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep would be perpetually and publicly exhibited on a three-year rotating schedule between the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Musée d’Orsay in France. (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/french-jewish-family-heir-regains-title-to-nazi-stolen-painting-of-shepherdess)
This arrangement for public display was important to OU and – based on her prior comments – also to Ms. Meyer. The objective stated at the time of the accord was that students, art lovers and the general public, both in France and Oklahoma, could learn and experience the beauty and historical memories that this painting contributes to the world.
Since 2016, OU, the OU Foundation and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art have fully complied with the court orders.
Hoping to revisit the settlement, lawyers for Meyer – whose family possessed the painting before it was looted by Nazis during World War II – issued a summons to OU in October of this year.
OU received the painting in 2000 as a donation from the Weitzenhoffer Family, who acquired the painting more than a decade after the War in what parties to that transaction have described as a “good faith” exchange.
In a quote cited November 4 in the OU Daily (http://www.oudaily.com/news/holocaust-survivor-sues-ou-to-keep-painting-stolen-by-nazis-in-france/article_3bf2b37a-1ee3-11eb-b66c-e7c3b21c81e7.html), art restitution expert Lynn Nicholas said she “couldn’t understand” why Meyer was now seeking to change the agreed-upon settlement.
“Everybody thought it was the perfect restitution agreement that could be made,” Nicholas said. “There were a number of good-faith buyers who gave it to the museum.”
After a contentious earlier time: In reaching the settlement in 2016, Ms. Meyer expressed gratitude to the OU Foundation for its graciousness, kindness, sensitivity and accommodation of her family heritage. At Ms. Meyer’s and the Foundation’s joint request – the U.S. Federal Court entered an order confirming the settlement. The courts of France thereafter entered an order likewise recognizing it as final and non-appealable.
The agreement was heralded as a first-of-its-kind U.S.-France international art sharing agreement.
Now, concerns are raised in legal proceedings both in France and the U.S.
Courts in both nations put a stamp of approval on the accord.
The settlement agreement was heralded as a model by arts and cultural leaders worldwide
because it is consistent with the Washington Principles and the Alliance of American
Museums (AAM) Guidelines, which the parties followed to mutually resolve the modern-day art
As the AAM Guidelines counsel, in achieving the Pissarro settlement, the parties shared the historical provenance research, balanced the goals of addressing modern-day claims with the present-day owner’s good faith, and thus, reached a resolution acknowledged as fair and just.