Stanford University Press remembers a path-breaking legal scholar.
On August 3rd, esteemed Stanford Law Professor John Henry Merryman died at age 95. Merryman lived a long and accomplished life, celebrated by his peers and students; his contributions to comparative law, art law, and property law are internationally recognized and highly venerated.
We at Stanford Press are very proud to list John Henry Merryman among our authors. Merryman’sThe Civil Law Tradition: An Introduction to the Legal Systems of Western Europe and Latin America (now in its third edition) is recognized as a major treatise in the field. Originally published in 1970, the book is still regularly cited 45 years later. Merryman is also the author of Stanford Legal Essays (1975) and The Italian Legal System: An Introduction (with Mauro Cappelleti and Joseph M. Perillo, 1967). A second revised edition of the latter—described as a “classic and pioneering work,” by Ugo Mattei of UC Hastings—will be published this fall.
The staff of Stanford University Press extends our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Professor Merryman. All of us at Stanford Press have long admired him for his many outstanding contributions to the academic community. He will be truly missed.
Merryman’s excellence in scholarship will live on with his colleagues, his many students over his decades of teaching, and in the past and future readers of his prolific list of books.
—Michelle Lipinski, Law and Anthropology editor
The following is adapted from an article by Sharon Driscoll, editor of the Stanford Lawyer magazine. It originally appeared on Stanford Law School’s news blog, where it can be read in full.
It’s often said that the faculty makes a school. In the case of John Henry Merryman, one individual’s influence on Stanford went well beyond the classroom and the launch of a new field of law to the very art on the walls and sculptures on the grounds.
An internationally renowned expert on art and cultural property law as well as comparative law, Merryman, dedicated his life to the study and teaching of law at Stanford, influencing generations of lawyers and art historians here and around the world from the time he joined the law faculty in 1953 until his death this week at the age of 95.
“John Merryman was a giant in several fields—comparative law and the field he helped create, art and the law,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and dean of Stanford Law School. “He was a devoted teacher and mentor to his students. He taught his last class, “Stolen Art,” only a couple months ago, and helped launch the careers of many of our graduates who work at the intersection of the arts and the law.”
Merryman, the Nelson Bowman Sweitzer and Marie B. Sweitzer Professor of Law, Emeritus, and Affiliated Professor in the Department of Art, Emeritus, died on Aug. 3, 2015 at the age of 95 of natural causes at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. Details of a memorial service are not yet available, but one is expected to be held in the fall.
John Merryman was a giant in several fields—comparative law and the field he helped create, art and the law.
“In 1970 no one spoke of art law as a field for serious study or even as a subject for teaching. That art law is today recognized internationally as being essential to every country interested in protecting its cultural patrimony, by every American art museum as vital to the proper conduct of its trustees and by all artists as protecting their rights, is due in large measure to the publications and teachings of John Henry Merryman,” wrote the late art historian and Stanford Professor Albert Elsen in a 1987 Stanford Law Review tribute to Merryman, “Founding the Field of Art Law.”
Merryman introduced the idea for the new course “Law, Ethics and the Visual Arts,” in 1970 to a somewhat skeptical law faculty. Merryman taught the course in 1971, the first of its kind. Elsen collaborated and co-taught with Merryman—the two delving into questions of tax, copyright, contracts, regulation, cultural property, ethics and more—creating a syllabus for the nascent field of study and publishing the groundbreaking book Law, Ethics and the Visual Arts, now in its fourth edition.
Before that, Merryman was a comparative law scholar of international standing.
“His great book on The Civil Law Tradition caused a fundamental rethinking of comparative law and subsequent scholarship—and courses based on that scholarship—were powerfully strengthened as a result,” said Thomas Ehrlich, dean of Stanford Law School from 1971 until 1976. “John’s many works relating to art and cultural property, as well as his multiple courses in that arena, were no less groundbreaking. He deployed his strengths in comparative law to produce penetrating analyses on the ownership of antiquities, as well as on art and the law more generally. Students from across the Stanford campus and beyond flocked to John’s classes. John was one-of-a-kind, as colleague and as dear friend.”
Merryman was truly an international scholar who was both a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fulbright Research Professor at the Max Planck Institute. His expertise in comparative law and art law led to visiting positions at universities in Mexico, Greece, Italy, Germany and Austria. He was president of the International Cultural Property Society and on the editorial board for various publications, including the International Journal of Cultural Property and the American Journal of Comparative Law.
John was for all of us a model of civility and old-world charm; He was a scholar for the ages.
He received numerous international prizes and honors over the course of his career, including the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and honorary doctorates from Aix-en-Provence, Rome (Tor Vergata), and Trieste, and was celebrated in two Festschriften: “Comparative and Private International Law: Essays in Honor of John Henry Merryman on His Seventieth Birthday” and “Legal Culture in the Age of Globalization: Latin America and Latin Europe.”
In 2004 he received the American Society of Comparative Law’s Lifetime Achievement Award “for his extraordinary scholarly contribution over a lifetime to comparative law in the United States.”
“John was for all of us a model of civility and old-world charm. He bore with unfailing grace the mounting burdens of age, continuing to write and teach deep into his retirement,” said George Fisher, the Judge John Crown Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Prosecution Clinic. “And he never lost his generous interest in the work of his friends and colleagues. He was a scholar for the ages.”
“He was a truly innovative scholar, ahead of his time throughout his long career,” said Lawrence M. Friedman, the Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law.
Merryman’s expertise in and enthusiasm for art benefited Stanford beyond the reach of his scholarship. In the 1970s, when the law school was building its “new” campus, he chaired the design committee.
“When the law school moved from the Quad to its new home in 1975, John undertook to use his art expertise to persuade some of the best graphic printmakers to lend major works of art to the Law School where they became the best art collection at Stanford apart from the Museum,” recalled Ehrlich. “He identified a stunning Barbara Hepworth sculpture [titled “Four Square (Walk Through)”] to borrow as the centerpiece of the school’s courtyard, and when the loan was up he arranged a gift of the elegant Calder sculpture that replaced it (titled “Le Faucon”). In honor of his many contributions to art, a good friend and admirer gave Stanford one of the largest and most handsome sculptures on the campus, created by Mark di Suvero.”
The di Suvero sculpture, “The Sieve of Eratosthenes,” was, according to a Stanford press release from March 2000, donated to Stanford by Daniel Shapiro and Agnes Gund, who wished to honor Merryman “by thanking him for all he has done for us and everyone interested in art by giving a gift in his honor to Stanford of a work of an artist that John thought was sorely missing on campus. And so now, because of John, there is Mark di Suvero’s ‘The Sieve of Eratosthenes,’ the work of a great artist to celebrate a great teacher and friend of art.”
While his scholarship was international, it was perhaps most keenly felt at Stanford.
“In my 30 years as a faculty member at this remarkable place, John Merryman was clearly one of the most remarkable of my colleagues,” recalled Henry “Hank” T. Greely, the Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law. “Hired here as the law librarian, he managed not one but two spectacular scholarly careers, the first as one of the leading comparative law scholars in the world and then later as one of the world’s very top ‘art and the law’ scholars. His civil law work led to him being named an Italian knight—un Cavaliero della Republica Italiana. Which brings to mind an even more important point about John. He was always a gentlemen: gracious, helpful, self-deprecating. I would say that they aren’t making them like John Merryman anymore, but they (almost) never did. He was a great scholar, a wonderful colleague and a very good person. I miss him.”
I would say that they aren’t making them like John Merryman anymore, but they (almost) never did. He was a great scholar, a wonderful colleague and a very good person.
“John was a treasured colleague. We all sought his advice on a range of subjects because of his incisive mind, his wit and his insight. The world is a less interesting and elegant place without John,” said Magill. “We all mourn the passing of this wonderful man, who was a class act in every respect.”