JAMESTOWN – The James Prendergast Library board of trustees held a special meeting Thursday determine how to proceed with six classic oil paintings by European artists that were not sold during a recent auction at Sotheby’s. On Nov. 21 a total of nine paintings from the library’s classic art collection were put up for auction, but only three were bid on.
The library board decided earlier this year to sell the classic art collection in order to help address financial challenges, including a decrease in fundraising and a reduction in aid from the city. The state attorney general’s office permitted the sale of the artwork, but only if done through an auction house.
So far, 12 of the more than 2 dozen classic art paintings from the library have sold for a total of $846,000. The estimated value of the collection is $1.17 million. The estimated value of the six paintings that didn’t receive a bid at auction is $350,000 to $500,000.
Library board president Tom Rankin informed the board that the two options available is to wait and put the oil paintings back up for auction next year, or they could entertain post-sale offers, in which a prospective buyer could offer Sotheby’s a price below reserve for a painting or paintings and the library board can then determine if it is acceptable or not.
The board voted that the library would try again to auction the artwork through Sotheby’s at a date to be determined, which would most likely be in November 2018. In the meantime, the board’s finance committee will review any offers that are made and make a recommendation to the full board on whether or not the offer is acceptable, at which time the board would then vote on selling the artwork.
“We’re not trying to solicit offers. If they come in and Sotheby’s sends them to us, we will look at them, but we’re not at this point putting out the word to send us offers,” Rankin said. “Our official position is that we are going to relist them in November 2018.”
Rankin said that currently Sotheby’s has received two offers for two of the six paintings, although he could not disclose what those offers were for.
Rankin also said that despite another recent push on social media calling on residents to request the library keep the six paintings that were unable to receive a bid during the Nov. 21 auction, no one has reached out to library officials to make that request formally known.
“No one has contacted me directly about ‘saving the art’ – to use that term. No one has contacted the board officially. And no one on the board has mentioned that they’ve heard anything,” Rankin said. “The comments I have heard in general are supportive. I think, in general, nobody is happy that we don’t have the art anymore, but people understand, given the way the city has decided to cut our funding in a very draconian way, that we really don’t have choice anymore.”
On Monday the Jamestown City Council approved its 2018 budget, which slashes library funding by $50,000 – a 50 percent decrease from the current year and a more than 85 percent reduction in funding from what the library was getting in 2015.
Only two members of the public where at Thursday’s meeting and only one person addressed the board, asking questions related to Jesse and Cathy Marion and their offer in 2016 to purchase the artwork and keep it in Jamestown. The Marion’s are a philanthropic couple from Texas who have roots in Chautauqua County and wanted to preserve the art collection for the residents of the city. However, the library was instructed by the state attorney general that it could not sell the collection to a private buyer, but would instead have to sell it through an auction house.
Prior to offering to purchase the collection outright in 2016, the Marions also pledged a $60,000 donation in 2015 if the library would hold off on selling the art collection for one year and work with them on finding an alternate solution. On Thursday night Rankin said the Marions made a donation of just, $30,000 – not the full $60,000.
The library’s finance committee will meet on Dec. 7 to review the two bids, as well as discuss and finalize the 2018 budget. The meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. is open to the public, although any discussion related to the offers for the art collection will likely take place in executive session.