In 1985, the Dallas Museum of Art accepted one of the largest gifts in the institution's history: more than 1,400 pieces by Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, and others from the personal collection of Wendy Reves, collectively valued at more than $400 million.
A quarter century later and four years after Reves' death, the gift was challenged in federal court by Arnold Leon Schroeder Jr., Reves' only son, who was born before Reves divorced her first husband, launched a career as a jet-setting model, took up with writer and publisher Emery Reves and started a world-class art collection.
Emery Reves, Schroeder claimed in the suit, had intended to turn Villa La Pausa, the couple's French estate, originally built for Coco Chanel, into a public museum. Instead, Reves, "by now a lonely widow and chronic alcoholic," was persuaded by the "Texas charm and flattery" of three DMA board members to disregard Emery's wishes and donate the collection to the DMA. (To its credit, the museum did build a 16,500-square-foot replica of Villa La Pausa specifically to house the art.)
Also plying Reves with Texas charm and flattery -- and not a little champagne -- was then-UT Southwestern Medical Center President Kern Wildenthal, who, according to the suit, coerced Reves into leaving the med school millions of dollars in her will.
Schroeder wanted all that money back. U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle said no way and promptly tossed his suit, calling it a "a long-winded, often meandering narrative" that failed to make a cogent legal argument.
But Boyle's firmly worded decision wasn't conclusive enough for Schroeder, who appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. And today, two years since the original suit was filed, it has given Schroeder what will be his final answer: still no.
The court's opinion is a slim page-and-a-half. It says simply that Boyle's decision to dismiss the case was legit.