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Pissarro painting at University of Oklahoma under dispute

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A 19th century painting by Camille Pissarro is at the center of an ongoing dispute between the University of Oklahoma and a family in France that says the work of art was stolen from them by Nazis during World War II. 

"Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep," which Pissarro completed in 1886, resides at OU's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman. The museum is arguing that the painting was purchased in 1956 by private collector Aaron Weitzenhoffer and that his wife, Clara, eventually bequeathed the piece along with other works to the museum in 2000.

A woman in France has filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court against the museum, saying that the painting belonged to her father, Raoul Meyer. Leone Meyer is arguing that Nazis improperly seized the painting from her father's collection and is asking the courts to order that it be returned.

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A group of Oklahoma lawmakers recently stepped into the dispute, siding with the French family. Republican state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft said he hopes the museum will return the painting because it is "the right and moral thing," according to a report in the Oklahoman.

The university has cited a 1953 ruling in Switzerland that previously denied the Meyer family's claim to the artwork partly because of the statute of limitations.

But officials at the museum said that it will return the work if so ordered by the federal judge. 

The subject of art seized by Nazis has been in the spotlight lately because of the George Clooney movie "The Monuments Men" as well as the recent revelation of a large stash of art in Munich, Germany, that is believed to contain works looted during the Holocaust.

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