With the recent return of a 1887 sketch by French impressionist painter Claude Monet, the Brigham Young University art collection lacks only one of the three valuable drawings involved in a confessed deception-and-forgery scheme masterminded by an independent New York art dealer.
Dion O'Wyatt, 70, pleaded guilty six months ago to a single misdemeanor count of theft by deception and admitted to returning forgeries in place of two drawings and lying about the disappearance of the third from the BYU art collection nearly 20 years ago.The O'Wyatt case is only one wrinkle in the BYU art probe being conducted by university investigators and attorneys, with nearly 1,300 works and pieces - valued at a total of $4 million - found to be missing from the 12,000-piece collection. Most were believed to have been improperly sold, traded or stolen between 1972 and 1978.
Earlier this month the Monet sketch - known as "Two Women in a Boat" or "The Boat Ride" - was returned to BYU. The sketch was a preliminary effort for Monet's painting "Le Barge Bleue" and has an estimated value of up to $250,000.
The sketch and two drawings by American landscape artist Winslow Homer - "Shepherdess" and "Over the Garden Wall" - were loaned in 1969 to O'Wyatt for authentication. Ironically, O'Wyatt later returned forgeries of the Monet sketch and one of the Homer drawings and told BYU official that the third work had been loaned to a relative, who refused to return it.
A New York gallery returned "Shepherdess" to BYU late last year upon discovering it had been involved in an illegal transaction. However, a New York collector who possesses "Over the Garden Wall" is debating the issue of questioned ownership with BYU.
"There's dialogue going on between our attorneys and their attorneys, but that's about it," said Capt. Wes Sherwood, one of the University Police investigators who has been working full time on the art probe for nearly two years.
The three works involved in the O'Wyatt case were said to be among the most valuable missing from the BYU collection and among the pieces most actively sought by investigators.
In the wake of the BYU art probe, O'Wyatt and Wes Burnside, the former BYU collection's acquisitions director, have entered either guilty or no-contest pleas to criminal charges, while a civil suit has been filed against Burnside and 500 unnamed individuals, the group composed of those who received the missing works through theft, deception or improper sales or trades.
According to Sherwood, the total list of works and pieces missing from the BYU collection will be published within a month in International Foundation for Art Research magazine, which catalogs missing art. The list is expected to be divided into two categories - works by major American or international artists and works by Utah artists.
Investigators have located about half of the 1,284 missing pieces, and some 60 works have been returned, said Brent Harker, BYU assistant director of public communications.
Because the statute of limitations has expired, normal criminal proceedings can't be filed in connection with most missing pieces. However, civil action continues to be an alternative for BYU in its attempts to recover the art, with information gleaned from investigative efforts being forwarded to BYU's counsel, Sherwood said.
"The university has to decide whether to go after them (the pieces) or not," he said.