A Claude Monet drawing swindled away from Brigham Young University 19 years ago rests safely in BYU's vault after years of world travel.
"Two Women in a Boat," a planning sketch for the Monet painting "Le Barge Bleue," was recovered last week, said Virgie Day, collection manager."I'm elated," Day said. "Less than 5 percent of art stolen in the United States is ever recovered. We are thrilled to have the sketch back."
Monet, a French painter known for his impressionist style, sketched the drawing in 1887. BYU acquired the drawing in 1959. In 1969, "Two Women in a Boat" and two drawings by American landscape artist Winslow Homer - "Shepherdess" and "Over the Garden Wall" - were loaned to New York art dealer Dion O'Wyatt for authentication.
O'Wyatt has admitted that he had "Two Women in a Boat" and "Shepherdess" copied by a student working as a street artist and sent the forgeries back to BYU in place of the originals. He told BYU officials he had loaned "Over the Garden Wall" to a relative who refused to return it. He sent BYU a $1,000 check as compensation for the missing sketch, then sold the original to a New York gallery for $5,500, he later admitted. He sold the other two sketches to another gallery for a total of $21,000.
Arnold Lemmon, the BYU Police's primary investigator in the case, said "Two Women in a Boat" was turned in by the attorney of the last owner, an unidentified New York art collector who had not realized until recently that the sketch was stolen.
Notes on the back of the frame indicate the drawing has been displayed at shows in Paris, the Soviet Union and Washington, D.C.
O'Wyatt was originally charged with second-degree felony, but the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor count of theft by deception after he agreed to cooperate with investigators. He pleaded guilty last November.
"Two Women in a Boat" was among about 900 pieces missing from the 12,000-piece BYU art collection when an intensive inventory was taken in 1986. Most of the missing art is believed to have been stolen or improperly sold or traded between 1972 and 1978. Only about 50 pieces have been recovered so far, said Day. The missing art has an estimated value of over $2 million.
"Two Women in a Boat" is the most valuable piece recovered so far, said Lemmon.
"It's worth somewhere between $200,000 and a quarter of a million," he said.
Day said whoever took the missing art knew enough to take the most valuable pieces. "It's almost as if they had a shopping list."
In March 1987, BYU filed a civil suit against Wesley Burnside, former acquisitions director for the art collection, and up to 500 unnamed recipients of improperly sold or traded art. BYU officials believed Burnside sold or traded much of the missing art without proper authorization.
Burnside pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor charge of unlawfully dealing with property as a fiduciary. He was granted immunity from additional prosecution in exchange for his cooperation with investigators.
Day said Burnside confirmed the transaction with O'Wyatt, but there is no evidence to link Burnside to this crime.
BYU officials suspected their "Two Women in a Boat" was a forgery for several years before the investigation began, said Day.
"We saw a copy of a Smithsonian Institution catalog that listed `Two Women in a Boat' for sale. We wondered how they could be selling it when we had it," she said.
Day said the theft will probably increase the sketch's value.
"The more interesting its history, the more valuable the piece," she said.
She said the counterfeit sketch has some value too. It can be displayed as part of educational exhibits on forgery techniques.