This is not exactly the 25th anniversary gift the Dallas Museum of Art had imagined for the Wendy and Emery Reves collection. Last Friday, Arnold Leon Schroeder Jr., the sole heir to the Reves family, filed a federal lawsuit allegding that the Dallas Museum of Art and former president of UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dr. Kern Wildenthal, bullied Wendy Reves into leaving her art collection to the Dallas Museum of Art as well as “several millions of dollars” to UT Southwestern. On Unfair Park, Robert Wilonsky has the full lawsuit and breaks down the details:
In the suit, which follows below and spells out an alphabet soup’s worth of foundations and alleged tax-dodging fronts, Schroeder alleges that after Emery’s death in 1981, three DMA board members went to France and asked Wendy to donate their collection, said to be worth more than $400 million.
The suit also alleges that Dr. Kern Wildenthal, during his tenure as president of UT Southwestern Medical Center, pressed Wendy to leave “several millions of dollars” to the hospital.
Schroeder wants the DMA and UT Southwestern “disgorged of their ill-gotten gains,” among other things.
As Wilonsky notes, the parties involved have not likely been served yet, but in a follow up report in today’s Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Museum of Art responds:
DMA officials said in a statement that Reves was “very clear, direct and in charge of her life” and was not “manipulated into supporting charities in Dallas against her will.” The museum claimed that Reves’ “estranged son” filed the lawsuit only to improve on the $500,000 his mother bequeathed him.
The museum received the collection after it agreed to recreate replicas of rooms from the Reves’ french villa to house the artwork in the DMA. In the lawsuit, Schroeder says this was a way of the museum would satisfy Wendy Reves’ husband’s wish to keep the collection in their villa, turning the home once owned by Coco Chanel into a public museum.
UPDATE: The New York Times’ blog has picked up the story.
UT Southwestern has issued a statement:
It is important to note that UT Southwestern is not named as a defendant in this civil lawsuit. Any reference to the University or to the suit’s attempt to have UT Southwestern relinquish “ill-gotten” funds is simply inaccurate. In fact, UT Southwestern has received no funds from the Reves estate or from Emery Reves’ foundations, directly or indirectly through the Southwestern Medical Foundation, and has received only one personal gift of $6,000 in 1993 from Mrs. Reves.
Dr. Wildenthal is not in the office and has yet to be served with this lawsuit. He has served and continues to serve UT Southwestern with the highest integrity and undoubtedly he will strongly refute the unsubstantiated claims in this lawsuit. Neither UT Southwestern nor Dr. Wildenthal will comment further on pending litigation.
As has the DMA:
Statement from the Dallas Museum of Art Regarding Schroeder Lawsuit
A lawsuit was filed in Dallas on March 11, 2011, against several prominent individuals and the Dallas Museum of Art seeking the return of donations made through charitable trusts created by philanthropist Emery Reves of funds, artwork, and other assets acquired by Mr. Reves mostly prior to 1964. The suit has been filed by Arnold Léon Schroeder, the estranged and only son of Wendy Reves from her first marriage. In 1964, Wendy Reves married her third husband, Emery Reves, when Mr. Schroeder was nearly 30 years old.
This lawsuit follows several other suits that Mr. Schroeder filed in recent years in his ongoing attempt to claim an inheritance significantly larger than the $500,000 Wendy Reves chose to leave him in her will. Put most simply, Mr. Schroeder’s lawsuit seeks to enrich Mr. Schroeder and his lawyers at the expense of charitable organizations. On behalf of the citizens of Dallas as well as the public at large, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of donations from the Emery Reves trusts, the Dallas Museum of Art not only has a legal responsibility to stand up to these unfounded claims, but a moral one, as well.
In the current lawsuit, Mr. Schroeder and his legal counsel have put forth a dramatic story that is untrue in many significant respects. They depict Wendy Reves as an ailing old woman who was manipulated into supporting charities in Dallas against her will. In fact, anyone who knew Wendy Reves is well aware that she was very clear, direct, and in charge of her life, including her intentions for her own estate and for the trusts created by Emery Reves that she directed. These donations followed the wishes of her late husband, and many of them were made decades before she passed away, including the 1983 gift to the Dallas Museum of Art of the Reves Collection.
Mr. Schroeder, an American citizen living in California, is hoping that French “forced heirship” laws will be applied to Wendy Reves’s estate, thus entitling him to one-half of her assets, rather than the $500,000 left to him in her will. This lawsuit further contends that Wendy Reves’s estate should include not only the personal assets inherited from her husband but also the Reves Collection and other assets of her husband’s charitable trusts — assets and artwork that were acquired by Emery Reves mostly before he and Wendy married and that were placed into charitable trusts by him. The suit argues that these gifts should be taken back in order that Mr. Schroeder can lay claim to them for his personal benefit.
Following the death of Emery Reves, Mrs. Reves acted as president of the charitable trusts and foundations established by him, which included overseeing the Reves Collection. She was therefore responsible for the donations of money and art made by his trusts, but she did not own their assets. These trusts and foundations were never part of Mrs. Reves’s estate, and the current lawsuit seeking to claim their assets is clearly without merit. Mrs. Reves entrusted the Reves Collection to the Dallas Museum of Art nearly 30 years ago, and the courts should ensure that Mrs. Reves’s generous wishes of public benefit, rather than Mr. Schroeder’s desires for private gain, are respected.
Image: Wendy Reves via WinstonChurchill.org. Churchill was a personal friend of Reves.