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LEGAL OWNERSHIP OF PISSARRO PAINTING: FRENCH COURT TO HEAR CASE (B2+)

Another legal chapter has opened in the long-running issue over the ownership of the Camille Pissarro painting, ‘La Bergère Rentrant des Moutons’ [Shepherdess Bringing In Sheep]. Pissarro painted the picture in 1886 and is worth in excess of $1.5 million.


Before the Second World War, the painting was owned by the Jewish businessman, Raoul Meyer. He deposited the painting, and his art collection, at the bank, Credit Commercial de France, in 1940. However, the whole art collection was seized by the Nazis after they occupied Paris during the war.


After the war, the painting was eventually bought by some art collectors and then bequeathed to the University of Oklahoma, United States, in 2000. It was then displayed in the university’s Fred Jones Jr Museum of Art.


In 2013, Raoul Meyer’s adoptive daughter, Leone, filed a case over ownership of the painting. In 2016, a legal settlement was reached. The terms of the settlement included:


· that ownership of the painting would be transferred to Leone Meyer;

· that the painting would be displayed at a museum in France for five years;

· that at the end of the five-year period, the painting would be displayed in three-year cycles between the University of Oklahoma and one or more French institutions, which Leone Meyer would choose;

Since 2017, the painting has been on display at the d’Orsay museum in Paris. In 2018, Leone Meyer wanted to donate the painting to the museum for its permanent collection. The museum refused, saying that the risks of transporting the painting to the United States and back every three years were too high.


Leone Meyer has now commenced legal proceedings in France. She wants to try to change the terms of the legal settlement which was reached in 2016. Ms Meyer is basing her case on a legal ruling in France in July 2020. This ruling stated that anyone in possession of stolen art must return it free of charge.


Attempts to settle the matter have so far failed. The case will now be heard by a French court in January 2020.


(c) Cambridge Legal English Academy 2020

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