French Painting Stolen by Nazis in WWII Finally Returned

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Camille Pissarro’s Bergère Rentrant des Moutons (or Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep) has switched hands several times since it was stolen from its original owners by Nazis during World War II. Now, nearly 80 years since the looting, the piece has arrived at the Musée d’Orsay in its home country of France, Newsweek reports.

The saga began in 1941, when Nazis raided the bank vault of a Jewish family living in Southern France. After busting open the vault, the soldiers claimed the 1886 oil painting the Meyers had hidden inside.

The family went into into hiding and survived the Holocaust, and once the war ended they tracked down the missing art. It had ended up in Switzerland, but after taking the matter to court the family was denied rights to the property.

From there, the Pissarro was moved to the U.S. and eventually ended up at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. Léone Meyer, the Meyers' adopted daughter, learned of the painting’s new location through a blog post in 2012. She contacted the university explaining that the painting belonged to her family, and when the school didn’t agree to hand it over, she filed a lawsuit.

Meyer, whose birth parents were murdered at Auschwitz, described her mission to reclaim the painting as a “duty to my biological family and a duty to my adoptive family” in an open letter from 2014.

The 650,000 European works stolen by the Third Reich in World War II make up the largest art theft in history. Organizations exist to help return these pieces to their rightful owners, but the legal steps involved can get messy.

Meyer’s case ended in a settlement, with the two parties agreeing to shuffle the painting between the University of Oklahoma and a different French institution every three years. Meyer has also been declared the official owner. Before the new arrangement begins, Bergère Rentrant des Moutons will spend five years on display at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

[h/t Newsweek]