"Shepherdess Bringing In Sheep," by the French impressionist Camille Pissarro, has been in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the university for more than a decade. Leone Meyer, a relative of the painting's former owner, Raoul Meyer, has filed a federal lawsuit in New York seeking its return.
President David Boren said the university is waiting for the court decision, the Oklahoman reported. Swiss officials ruled in 1953 that the Meyer family did not act quickly enough to recover the painting and had thus lost its claim to it.
"The university does not want to keep any items which it does not legitimately own," Boren said. "However, the challenge to the university, as the current custodian of the painting, is to avoid setting a bad precedent that the university will automatically give away other people's gifts to us to anyone who claims them."
The painting was part of Raoul Meyer's collection, which was seized during the occupation of France. Meyer eventually recovered most of his art.
Oil executive Aaron Weitzenhoffer and his wife Clara bought the painting in New York in 1956. Clara Weitzenhoffer left the Pissarro to the university museum when she died in 2000 with more than 30 other art works.
State Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, a Republican and one of the sponsors of the non-binding resolution in Oklahoma, said returning the painting is "the right and moral thing."