Erie's Blasco Library Home to $5 Million Masterpiece

Monday, November 8th, 2010 at 11:26 AM
Erie's Blasco Library Home to $5 Million Masterpiece by Brian Graham

The Blasco Library has an American masterpiece in it's collection.

From the ETN:

The most valuable painting in the library's extensive art collection, "Summer Afternoon, Isle of Shoals" by Frederick Childe Hassam, could fetch $5 million on the market, Andrew Schoelkopf, of Menconi & Schoelkopf Fine Art, wrote in a letter to Erie County Councilman Joe Giles.

But not everyone is sold on the idea of selling.

John Vanco, director of the Erie Art Museum, said the painting belongs where it is, in the public collection.

"One measure of a community is its respect for its heritage, and that painting represents its heritage in several ways," Vanco said. "It's one of the few major objects that come down to us from the early 20th century in this community. Much of our legacy from that time period had been erased, and in some cases I would say squandered."

Schoelkopf could not be reached for comment Friday. In the letter, dated June 30, he said the high-end art market has rebounded from slow sales caused by the recession.

He said he saw the Hassam painting in person during a trip to Erie for other business. The Hassam is a masterwork, it appears to be in good condition and it is an extraordinarily rare and important work of art," Schoelkopf wrote. " ... Now that I have seen the painting in the flesh and had the opportunity to consider its beauty and scale, I feel there is no question that I could achieve an extremely high price for the sale.

Now that the value of the paining has been made public, there will almost certainly be calls to auction off the painting and use the funds for some immediate budget relief. This would be extremely short-sighted. Any city with an art collection could potentially sell their collections. Would Paris be better off if they auctioned the Mona Lisa? Should Florence sell Michelangelo's David?

More on Frederick Childe Hassam from Stanford University's World Association of International Studies:

Like the French impressionists that he studied while at the Academie Julien in Paris, Hassam portrayed the leisure life of the middle and upper classes and used rapid brushwork, diagonal perspectives, large expanses of open space, and cut forms. When he returned from Paris in 1889, he settled in New York City, where he painted people scurrying along snowy streets or strolling under flowering trees along broad avenues. In 1898 he joined a group of American impressionists called "The Ten," which also included John Twachtman and Alden Weir. Hassam took to painting in brilliant color with touches of pure pigment, and his works are distinctive for their freshness and clear luminous atmosphere.

Scenes of New York life remained his favorite subject matter, but he also painted landscapes of New England and rural New York that, with their intense blue skies, lush foliage, and shimmering white light, became quite popular. Additionally, Hassam produced about 300 black-and-white etchings and lithographs that are notable for their sense of light and atmosphere.

Hassam was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and began his artistic career as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines such as Scribner's, Century, and Harper's. In the early 1880s he studied with a local, Munich-trained artist, developing a style that reflected both academic realism and Barbizon School influence. In 1886, he went to Paris for three years, where he entered the Académie Julien to refine his figure technique and, outside the Académie, absorbed the influence of Impressionism, enhancing his sense of color and light. No other American Impressionist ever surpassed the quality and variety of Hassam's output as a painter and draftsman. Equally talented in oils, watercolors, and prints, he explored rain-swept city scenes, glorious gardens, exquisite women, and stirring flag-lined streets.

Today many of Hassam's pictures are hidden in private collections and are rarely, if ever, accessible to the public; others are on view at major museums across the country, from the Metropolitan Museum to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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