French heiress renounces claim to Nazi-looted Pissarro

By: AFP      Published: 11:03 PM, 1 Jun, 2021
French heiress renounces claim to Nazi-looted Pissarro

A French heiress who spent years trying to win back a priceless impressionist painting that was stolen by the Nazis on Tuesday renounced her claim to the work to end a feud with an American university.

Leone Meyer, 81, spent nearly a decade trying to secure ownership of Pissarro's 1886 "La Bergere rentrant des moutons" (Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep), which was seized from her parents during the occupation of Paris in World War II.

After the war, the painting ended up in Switzerland before winding up in a private US collection.

In 2016 Meyer was declared its rightful owner but the terms of the deal struck with the University of Oklahoma, to which the work was bequeathed in 2000, prevented her from realising her dream of leaving it to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, a temple of impressionist art.

"Mrs Meyer has decided to put an end to her struggle to obtain restitution of this painting. UO has now obtained full title of the painting," her lawyer Ron Soffer confirmed Tuesday.

Meyer had fought hard to overturn a clause in the restitution contract, which stipulated that the oil-on-canvas painting be rotated between museums in Paris and Oklahoma every three years -- a commitment that the Musee d'Orsay had rejected as too costly.

In a statement a day before a French court was due to rule on the dispute, Meyer said that she had "no other choice but to take heed of the inescapable conclusion that it will be impossible to persuade the different parties to whose attention I have brought this matter".

"This is the reason why I have decided to give up all my rights and even my title to this painting, in favor of the Foundation of the University of Oklahoma," she said.

Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep was one of Pissarro's first works completed in the pointillist style, using small dots of paint.

The Nazis seized it in 1941 from Meyer's parents Raoul Meyer, who ran the Paris department store Galeries Lafayette for decades, and Yvonne Bader, the daughter of the store's founder.

Several artworks stolen by the Nazis from Jewish families have been at the centre of court cases in Europe in recent years. 

This is the second one involving a painting by Pissarro.

In October 2018, an American couple lost their bid to keep ownership of the painting "La Cueillette" ("Picking Peas") which was looted from a French Jewish collector during World War II. 

The American couple had argued they had no idea it had been stolen when they bought it at auction.