BYU sleuth work tracks down long-lost painting

By Tori Ackerman

Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

"It's a lovely still life," said Marian Wardle, curator of American art at BYU's Museum of Art and an expert on Weir. "It was a transitional period for Julian Alden Weir, who was a very academic painter. These floral still lifes, I think, helped loosen up his brush, and he became a leader of the American impressionist painters. That is what he is known for."

He painted "Silver Chalice with Roses," for his fiancÉe Anna Dwight Baker, one of his former students. For her birthday, he presented her the painting, which is inscribed on the chalice "J. Alden Weir to Anna Dwight Baker" and dated May 18, 1882. The painting was passed on to their daughter, Dorothy Weir, who married Mahonri Young. Weir predeceased her husband, Young, and when he died, his heirs brought his collection to BYU.

No one knows exactly were the "Silver Chalice" was stored when it came to BYU, and then it disappeared.

Then it was found again, but remained out of BYU's reach. "Legal wheels move slowly, that's the reason," Wardle said.

To keep up with the investigation, Lemmon periodically sent a letter requesting the painting's return. The baron died in 2002, and BYU's attorney reintroduced himself to the estate's attorney. The negotiations intensified in 2009. For about a year and a half they negotiated back and forth to reach an agreement, and finally they came to a decision. The attorney for the estate had an independent appraiser assess the painting's current market value, and BYU would pay for half the appraised value.

Though the amount was undisclosed, Lemmon said the painting was valued at auction in 2002 at $60,000 to $80,000.

The purchase brought decades of investigative work to an end.

"It was really gratifying to get it back," Lemmon said. "It also sends the message to the art world that we aren't just going to roll over what else is out there that is ours. If we find it, and we have enough of a case file on it to prove that it belongs to us, then we will go after it."

The painting arrived home last month dressed to the nines in special packaging, late for an ongoing art show at BYU's Museum of Art called "The Weir Family 1820-1920: Expanding the Traditions of American Art." A sticker labeling it property of Brigham Young University still clings to the back of the frame. It is hanging between two other paintings, another by J. Alden Weir and one by his brother John Ferguson Weir.

There are about 800 pieces still missing, and Lemmon said most were laundered in Europe. Hopes are dim to ever recover many, but what the task force does find it will pursue.

Each return, for him, is a victory.

"The bottom line for me is that it's kind of like getting one of your lost kids back," Lemmon said.

Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com

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