Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Strange Life of Objects

If Maurice Rheims, the renowned auctioneer and author (who married into the family of the French Rothschilds) will forgive me for using the title of his book, I have a story or two to tell.  We always wonder how works of art arrive where they do.  In fact we often think that works of art have always been in the museums where we first see them, though this is rarely if ever true.

Emma Schaefer left a marvelous 18th century collection as a complete surprise, to the Metropolitan Museum.  Walking through the Schaefer collection galleries  at he Met years ago my father commented that if Jack and Belle Linsky (Swingline Stapler fortune) had held on to a Meissen porcelain figure instead of trading it we would have found the piece across the hall in the Linsky galleries rather than the Schaefer galleries.  His point was, either way the work of art ended up at the Met.

We hear stories of "discoveries" which means that someone with a keen eye has seized a work of art from obscurity by identifying its place in art history.  My parents owned a painting by a French 18th century artist which was obviously of fine quality and it came from a well known collection but it was only after they died and it was cleaned that my wife was able to follow the leads and identify it as by Boucher.  No matter where that picture is it will retain its identity and not disappear from its proper context.

My parents also owned a sanguine drawing by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805).  It was the head of a boy and my mother always called it her second child.  After she died I offered it in Master Drawings, New York.  A woman who went to concerts that one of my parents best friends attended got into a discussion with him about me and how she had advised on what camp I should go to.  The friend suggested she visit the gallery and sure enough she came to the opening of Master Drawings New York that year. She bought the drawing because it went with another Greuze that she owned of a little girl.  Unfortunately, she died a few years later and we were offered the drawing by her heirs. We resold the drawing to a client abroad and recently I heard that it was again available. 

 Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1723-1807) “Le Charlaton au Louvre”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about closing my New York gallery and illustrated works on which I was steeply reducing the prices.  Among them was this watercolor I had acquired as a gift from a French art dealer and his wife who were close friends of my parents. It was one of 3 works of art I got back out of my divorce 40 years ago and the only one that I could afford to keep at the time.  It hung at times, in our home and sometimes it rested in the closet.

Then decision time came.  Though my "new" wife of the last 39 years and I have collected in many fields, for the last 20 plus years we have concentrated on our Native American collection and an 18th century French watercolor really did not fit in.  I felt that someone else should enjoy it rather than again relegating it to the closet.

An email came from an unlikely source, a school friend whom I have known since 5th grade!  He said he liked the idea of acquiring something with so much personal history as well as our relationship at school.   He came to New York with his wife to see the drawing for himself.  When I asked him why he had decided to buy it.  He said "it just grabbed me."

When my father took us to the Cloisters and other museums he used to say, "this was ours, this was ours”.  Isn't it wonderful how works of art can weave there way through our lives and on into those of others.

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