Monday, May 11, 2015

Oklahoma OK... Kol Hakavod!

'Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep' by Camille Pissarro (photo credit: public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

I'm a fan of Oklahoma, as readers and friends who live there will attest to. I've been there a few times and the place, generally speaking is full of G-d fearing decent folks who tend to exhibit common sense, love freedom and treat strangers with courtesy. And they also tend to elect no nonsense, honest conservatives to public office, unlike my home state.

Not only that, but I've noticed that again,generally speaking, a solid sense of justice seems to exist among most of the denizens of Okie Land,even when there's no money or benefit involved.To wit, this item.

The picture above is called "Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep" by French Impressionist Camille Pissaro, and it's worth 8 figures easy on the open market. It currently sits in the University of Oklahoma's Fred Jones Jr. Art Museum, where it was donated along with a number of other paintings.

The problem is, there's a good chance it's stolen art. It belonged originally to French department store owner Raoul Meyer, and was part of his art collection that was seized by the Nazis when they invaded France during World War II.

The Nazis loved art, and plundered the best museums and private collections in Europe. Many of the museums were able to hide some of their treasures, but private collections were looted, especially the ones owned by Jews. After all, it's not like they were in any position to complain. And since a lot of them died in the camps or were left destitute, many of them weren't in any position to try and get their valuable paintings back, so they were sold to private collectors and museums, often by officers and bureaucrats connected to the post-war occupation.

"Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep” changed hands several times after the war,and when Meyer tried to get back his lawful property, a Swiss court ruled in ruled in 1953 that he'd missed his five-year window to recover the painting. Too bad, Jew!

So after it changed hands a few more times, it ended up being donated to O.U, where Meyer's daughter tracked it down and filed a lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma in January 2014.

And here's where it gets good.Twenty-six members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives introduced a resolution today that wants O.U. and its Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art to determine to the legislature's satisfaction that none of paintings were “unlawfully appropriated during the Nazi era.”

"If it is determined from provenance research that an object in its collection was unlawfully appropriated during the Nazi era without subsequent restitution, the House of Representatives hereby directs the University of Oklahoma and the Fred Jones. Jr. Museum of Art to resolve the matter in an equitable, appropriate, and mutually agreeable manner, including restitution," the resolution states.

It's expected to pass. The idea, of course, is to shame OU into doing the right thing.

Oklahoma has a population of 3.878 million folks, of whom only 4,500 or so are Jews. So there wasn't any political benefit for the Oklahoma Legislature in doing this. They acted in response to a letter last month from the small Holocaust Remembrance and Restitution Society at the University of Oklahoma asking for them to support their efforts.

Those legislators did it because it was the right thing to do.

That, and a sense of sheer decency and fairness, which as I noted, is fairly common in Oklahoma.


louielouie said...

meyer's daughter is shlemiel.
what she should have done is dragged president boren and his wife into the street. slit their throats. burned down the museum. and along with it the painting. sued the university for bigotry and the loss of the painting. and have UNHCR assume control of the football program.

louielouie said...

ah yes, oklahoma common sense.
i thought this sounded familiar so i scratched the surface and found that the reason for the legilative action is because the university is fighting this lawsuit tooth/nail.
this is the focal point in a 33 piece clara weitzenhoffer collection. it may domino to other pieces as well, leaving large gaps on walls.
max weitzenhoffer is a regent board member at OU. clara was his mother. i wonder if the collection was payment for my son being on your board of regents.
as i read the legislation, all OU has to do is simply say they can't ascertain the source adequately and case closed. even if there is preponderance of evidence it was acquired unlawfully, that term "mutually agreeable manner" is legalese for "drag this out as long as possible so meyer's daughter dies then no one will give a damn".
oklahoma common sense my ass.

Rob said...

I dunno, Louie. I read the bill, HR 1026 and it's pretty specific about requiring actual provenance research, which is a specific legal term. Also, remember that Mr. Meyer's daughter has her own evidence on the painting's ownership which is the basis of her suit, so a mere statement by OU that they 'can't determine ownership' won't fly.

Another would have been just as easy for the legislators to simply ignore a letter from a small group of Jews at the OU Holocaust Remembrance and Restitution Society. Wouldn't have cost them anything to round file it.

No, I think this was designed to embarrass OU into settling the lawsuit and giving Ms. Meyer some $$$ for exactly the reason you state...because it could endanger the rest of the collection, and might attract other surviving owners or heirs trying to get back their stolen art. And OU doesn't want that.