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Art Theft

SILVER CHALICE 1Silver Chalice With Roses, Julian Alden Weir

When American Impressionist, J. Alden Weir first met Anna Dewight Baker, he noticed her fondness for flowers, and while courting her sent her daily a fresh bunch of violets. The artist would associate Anna with blossoms throughout her life. Silver Chalice with Roses was a present for Anna’s twentieth birthday on 18 May 1882. Mahonri M. Young, grandson of Brigham Young, married Dorothy Weir, artist and daughter of J. Alden Weir. Dorothy predeceased her husband, and Young inherited her estate which included, in addition to her own work, her father’s works, and works from J. Alden’s personal collection. Young, a prolific artist and a collector of art, amassed a collection numbering more than 10,000 objects, which included Silver Chalice with Roses. Brigham Young University acquired this collection, through purchase and donation in 1959.

In June of 1986, James Mason, College of Fine Arts and Communications Dean, requested the University Police to conduct an investigation into the misappropriation, the disappearance, and the theft of numerous art objects. With the assistance of Virgie Day, Fine Arts Collection Manager, a forensic audit of the entire collection was conducted. It was determined that 900 works of art were missing from the collection. A comprehensive investigation was launched, which continues today. During the early years of the investigation, up to five investigators worked on the “art case.”


The first three years of the investigation revealed that, from 1970 through 1985, a loosely organized criminal enterprise, composed of three individuals, had been actively stealing some of the finest works of art in the collection. This criminal enterprise included highly-respected Salt Lake City art dealer Dan Olsen, well-known Beverly Hills art dealer Eddy Goldfield, and recognized New York City art thief and fence – former BYU student and art major – Roy Anderson. These individuals skillfully gained the trust of the collections manager at that time and, through a sophisticated blackmail ruse, were able to steal works of art at will, as well as create a lucrative art donation tax fraud scheme.

I was specifically assigned the Silver Chalice with Roses (aka: Silver Cup with Roses, Roses, and Silver Chalice) case, and quickly discovered that it was currently in the world renowned Thysen-Bornemiza Collection, Lugano, Switzerland. Now the challenges were to recreate the painting’s true provenance, to establish the university’s legal ownership, and to identify who stole the painting. A highly-respected art expert from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art alerted Virgie Day that in 1980 the painting had been in the possession of New York art dealer Indiana Smith (some names have been changed to protect the identity of “good faith purchasers.”) I contacted dealer Smith, who informed me that he had purchased the painting from Beverly Hills dealer Todd Davis, and later sold it to New York dealer Adam Carter. Carter was currently serving time in a New York federal prison for homicide. From his prison cell, Carter confirmed in writing that he had purchased the painting from Indiana Smith, and in turn sold it to collector Baron Han Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemiza. I contacted Davis, who confirmed that he purchased the painting from Smith, and in turn sold it to Denver, Colorado art dealers Samuel Grover and Frank Red. In contacting Grover, I confirmed that he purchased the painting in late 1979 from Salt Lake dealer Dan Olsen, and then sold it to Davis in early 1980. In contacting Dan Olsen, he refused to speak with me; a felony theft charge was not on the table because the statute of limitations had expired. In May of 1987, pursuant to a formal legal agreement between former collections manager and the Utah County Attorney, the manager plead guilty to the crime of “Violation of a Fiduciary Trust by Improperly Dealing with the Property of Another’s.”


Between 1988 and 2002, I negotiated with the Baron’s attorney and worked with Detective Jerry Donnelly, New York City Police Department, in attempting to recover the painting; I was unsuccessful. Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza died April 26, 2002 at the age of 81. Following the Baron’s death, Attorney David Thomas, Brigham Young University’s General Counsel’s Office, entered into negotiations with the Baron’s estate attorney for the recovery of Silver Chalice with Roses.

In January 2012, Silver Chalice with Roses was returned to the BYU Museum of Art after being lost for more than 40 years.

EDITORS NOTE: This article first published 11/09/2013