A banner flown over the tailgate party of the University of Oklahoma’s opening football game Saturday called for the university’s president to “#return the stolen art.”
The banner towed by a plane for about two hours was referring to an artwork donated to the university that is believed to have been stolen by the Nazis from a Jewish family. It was sponsored by the Virginia-based group Americans for Limited Government, which called on the president, David Boren, to “set a good example for his students.”
Camille Pissaro’s “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep” was donated to the university by Clara Weitzenhoffer upon her death in 2000, and since then has been hanging in the university’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
The 1886 painting, one of 33 donated to the museum from Clara and Aaron Weitzenhoffer’s extensive collection of French Impressionist art, belonged originally to Jewish French department store owner Raoul Meyer.
Meyer’s entire art collection was seized by the Nazis when they invaded France during World War II.
In a statement Saturday, the president of Americans for Limited Government, Rick Manning, said “there can be no more egregious example in the 20th century of government confiscation than Hitler’s theft of property owned by Jewish people as they were ordered to death camps.”
Saying Boren “should act immediately to return the artwork in his University’s possession,” Manning added, “While OU obtained the art through a legal donation, it is unconscionable that they are spending tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to keep it from its rightful owner.”
Boren, in a statement published in the student newspaper, the Oklahoma Daily, called the flyover “highly inappropriate because the matter is in the courts and in the midst of legal negotiations.”
“It is an unfair attempt to simplify the issue,” he said. “Two very fine families are involved in this issue. The University is seeking a solution that will be fair to the family that first lost the art and to the family, which purchased it in good faith and gave it to the OU Foundation so that the public could enjoy it free of charge.”
“Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep” changed hands several times before a Swiss court ruled in 1953 that Meyer had missed his five-year window to recover the painting. Meyer’s daughter, Leone, filed a lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma in January 2014 in order to recover the painting.