JAMESTOWN – The James Prendergast Library board of trustees met on Thursday for its October meeting and received an update on the effort to auction off its $1.17 million classic art collection.
Board President Tom Rankin said the first of three auctions of the artwork took place earlier this month through the Sotheby’s auction house in New York and library officials were pleased with the initial results.
“The pieces that were sold were the American painters pieces and was very successful,” Rankin reported to the board and those in attendance. “We discussed with Sotheby’s that because there are still pending auctions and even with the October sales, they haven’t finalized everything because the buyers have 30 days to make payment. So we can’t publicly announce the net profits to the library at this time, but the ‘hammer’ prices are all online at the Sotheby’s website.”
WRFA located six paintings on the Southeby’s website from the Prendergast collection that were sold (complete list located below), including Jasper Francis Cropsey’s Lake George painting, which was estimated to sell for $30,000 to $50,000 but had a final hammer price of $275,000. The other paintings that sold weren’t as valuable as the Cropsey piece, but four of the five did sell higher than the estimated value.
Before auction, the total estimated value of the six paintings was $55,200-$85,800. The actual total sales for the six paintings was $328,500.
Rankin said that any funding from the artwork auction will be applied to the library’s endowment fund, rather than it’s general operating budget, despite there being a budget gap for 2018 due to a proposal by the city to reduce library aid by $50,000. That reduction has yet to be finalized by city council and library officials are hoping the council will restore the cut before approving a final spending plan for the city, which is due by Dec. 1.
“There’s no legal restriction on the money, however [applying it to the general operating budget for next year] doesn’t make good long-term sense for the library because your yearly operational funds are one thing, but this money is supposed to go into the endowment fund and earn money forever, hopefully. So if we spend all the money on our operational budget we’re not helping our endowment and we’re not helping the future of our library.”
The library has been cash-strapped in recent years due to a decline in donations from the community, as well as a reduction in aid from the city of Jamestown. To respond to the financial challenges, the library has already had to draw more money out of its endowment fund that what it generates in annual interest during the past few years.
The library’s decision to auction its classic art collection was meant with opposition by some members of the community, who felt it should remain in Jamestown for the community to appreciate, as was the intent when the collection was first put together more than a century ago.
A local group known as Save Local Art also identified Texas-based philanthropists with local ties, Jesse and Cathy Marion, to assist with keeping the art in Jamestown. At the end of 2015 the couple had offered to assist with developing a fundraising plan.
The Marions also donated $60,000 to the library at the end of 2015, in order to delay any possible sale and give the library and community time to try and find a way to keep the collection from going to auction.
The Marions later offered to purchase the collection from the library so that it could still stay in Jamestown for the community, but the board ultimately opted not to pursue that offer.
Besides delaying the sale of the art work at the request of the Save Local Art group, the library also had to wait until the State Attorney General’s office granted permission to proceed with deaccessioning the collection, because the paintings were originally purchased for the library at the bequest of local philanthropists on the condition that it permanently own the collection and put it on display for the benefit of the community. The Attorney General’s Office eventually gave the library authorization to sell the art collection, but only if done through auction.
Meanwhile, the next auction will feature the European artwork from the Prendergast collection and will take place on Nov. 21 through Sotheby’s, with the specific paintings and estimated value to be released two weeks prior to the auction date. Rankin said a third auction, featuring “lower end” paintings likely take place in January 2018 via the Stair Galleries auction house.
LIST OF PRENDERGAST PAINTINGS SOLD AT OCT. 6 AUCTION
Jasper Francis Cropsey – LAKE GEORGE
Estimate: $30,000 — 50,000
Hammer Price: $275,000
Chauncey Foster Ryder – CAMEL’S HUMP
Estimate $3,000 – 5,000
Hammer Price: $16,250
William Trost Richards –EBBING TIDE
Estimate $15,000 — 20,000
Hammer Price: $15,000
Chauncey Foster Ryder – SNOW IN NOVEMBER
Estimate $3,000 — 5,000
Hammer Price: $11,875
John Francis Murphy – THE DAY IS DONE
Estimate $1,200 — 1,800
Hammer Price: $5,625
Charles Warren Eaton – AN OCTOBER SUNSET
Estimate $3,000 — 4,000
Hammer Price: $4,750