The Art That Got Away. There are the people who got away from us — an attractive stranger with whom we exchanged glances at the airport, someone across the room at a party whom we didn’t get to meet — and there are also the artworks that eluded us. Many people can still recall the colors and compositions, the poses and effects of paintings and sculptures we wanted to own, but couldn’t.
Perhaps they were too expensive, or we waited too long to put in the bid or make the offer. Yet somehow we keep seeing those creations, even though they are not in our possession.
We asked some notable people in the arts — painters and dancers, conductors and gallery owners — to tell us about a favorite work that got away, but that remains in their thoughts.
Painter Mary Buckley – The Art That Got Away
When I was studying at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, I was very influenced by a design professor, the painter Mary Buckley (1926-2010), especially the way she used light and color. A year after I took her foundation course, she invited me to help in her painting studio and also with some projects at her home, located in a wonderful seaside enclave on Long Island called Baycrest.
At the time I was working for her, she was making a series of small paintings influenced by the beach and water, where I had, as a boy, learned to sail and to love the experience of boating. I really liked Mary’s works, not only for sentimental reasons, but also because they reflected exactly what I most liked about her work in general, which I see as something between Pierre Bonnard and Paul Klee. She described her own works as “color reality.”
I enjoyed many dinners and opera performances with Mary and her husband, Joseph Parriott (another Pratt professor who taught industrial design), and it was over these discussions that they helped me resolve whether to stick with fine art or go into design. The conclusion was to do both.
In exchange for the work I was doing on her house, I asked if I could have one of those paintings. Mary agreed. Soon, however, I was back at school and never circled back with her about it. Many years later, I bought a house in Northport, Long Island, facing Huntington Bay, and I continued to think about those small paintings. I made my own paintings, but they were no substitute for the ones by Mary that were in my mind. In 2010, the year I moved to New Hampshire, I learned that she had passed away — and it’s probably not possible to track down any of the works from that small series.
James Murray, Vice President of Design and Creative Director, Simon Pearce, Windsor, Vermont.
Pencil drawing by Robert Schultz
I hear with frequency from clients on how they missed out on a piece of art. Turning the table on myself, I had to think far back. My memory was jarred when I recalled a piece that still resonates with me. It was a smallish pencil drawing by Robert Schultz (b. 1953) of a nude woman, seen from the back, sitting on her knees, toes tucked under and arms not visible, possibly folded in prayer, and her head slightly cocked back and upright.
When I was young in the gallery business, we represented Bob’s exquisite pencil drawings. This particular one,
entitled Elegy, had arrived as part of an exhibition, and it stood out in the group. I was fascinated by the pure simplicity of the hourglass figure within an ambiguous interior background. The composition of the figure spoke to me both intellectually and emotionally.
Compared with Bob’s more complex drawings, this was quiet, pure, and presented in a way that made me wish it were a 3-D sculpture that I could hold. The subtle, soft light across the model’s back was so voluminous to me — I questioned how the artist could capture the form with such sensitivity. The soft gray background was equally compelling. Her weight within the picture plane was perfect, her torso perfectly balanced and framed from head to toe.
I thought for sure that Elegy would be one of the first drawings to sell when the exhibition opened. To my urprise, however, it remained available. I was even more surprised when years went by and it was the last remaining Schultz piece available in our gallery. I found myself sharing it with only the most sensitive of potential clients.
As we began to prepare for a subsequent exhibition, Schultz asked us to return Elegy to exchange out. I kept thinking that I would love to buy it and take it home. As a young assistant then, I wish I had taken the risk and acquired it. To this day, I don’t know who bought it. I’d like to think it is in an appreciative environment. When I want to revisit it, I go to a reproduction in a catalogue. Naturally, that doesn’t do it justice, but
its presence is still in my memory.
Eleana Del Rio, Co-Owner, Koplin Del Rio, Culver City, California.
painting by William Brice
Back in 1978, there was a wonderful painting by William Brice (1921-2008) that I saw at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York City. It was a very large oil on canvas, mostly gray, depicting a woman outlined in dark, almost as if rendered in pencil-like strokes. I wrote to Brice to express my excitement about his show in general and this painting in particular, asking him if the work was available and if one could pay for it on the installment plan.
He agreed and arranged it with the gallery — and the very next day the company that my husband, François, was working for was bought out and its staff laid off. That painting definitely got away. I think of it often, actually, and I look at a reproduction of it in a catalogue. I didn’t get the painting, but the painting got me.
Then there was the time my mother and I admired a drawing by Henri Matisse at the Dina Vierny Gallery in Paris. My mother looked and looked and pondered. Finally, she said to Vierny (who had been Aristide Maillol’s favorite model), “My husband would kill me if I spent this much.” To which Vierny replied, “Ah, but Madame, for this, you
must have a lover.” That piece got away, too.
Anne Sauzey, Painter/Collagist, Paris
Edward Hopper etchings
When I was a student at the Art Students League of New York, I used to prowl the 57th Street galleries pretty regularly, and Kennedy Galleries was one of my favorite haunts. They had Edward Hopper etchings that seemed within reach at the time. My memory might be clouded now, but I seem to remember that they were selling for around $500 each. I was an art student without much disposable income, but it seemed almost possible to own one of them — the operative word being “almost.”
I never did buy one, but had I, it would have been Night Shadows, still a favorite of mine. A friend of mine recently came across that print when clearing his mother’s house after she passed away. He wrote me to see how much it was worth. A couple of weeks after we talked, I discovered that a comparable one had sold at auction for something like $50,000. Dang!
Kevin Beers, Artist, Brooklyn
Tapestry by Marc Chagall
A couple of years ago, I went to the Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City and saw a tapestry by Marc Chagall that was probably four feet square. It was so colorful — reds and purples and oranges. Let’s just say that I’m not afraid of color! It was so vibrant, and I couldn’t stop staring at it for a long time. It’s something I really, really wanted. I asked the dealer, Jane Kahan, how much it cost, but she was coy about
it. So I just left it behind.
Most Chagall tapestries incorporate shades of blues, greens, and yellows, but this one was different, and so beautiful. I didn’t care if it was selling for $25,000: I was ready to take out a mortgage for it. But it got away from me. still have a place for it over my bed, and when I wake up, I keep imagining it hanging there. I have a particular feeling for Chagall, because when I danced at the New York City Ballet. And performed in George Balanchine’s production of Firebird, which featured costumes and sets designed by Chagall. I would look up and see the Chagall designs and know, too, that I was wearing something designed by him.
Tom Gold, Founder/Director,Tom Gold Dance, New York City
Caravaggesque work by Orazio Borgianni
This is about an artwork not for myself, but one that I wanted to acquire for the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I worked there as a curator of European paintings. It was a Caravaggesque work by Orazio Borgianni (1574-1616) called Christ among the Doctors. It was one of those great masterpieces by a follower of Caravaggio that still sometimes come onto the market. I tried to acquire it, but the price kept getting very, very high. Still, every time I see that painting in a book, I feel a slight pain. It was an extraordinary work by an extraordinary artist.
Xavier Salomon, Chief Curator, Frick Collection, New York City
Back in 2003, I was offered the opportunity to visit the SoHo studio of the Latvian-American artist Vija Celmins (b. 1938). Vija is unequivocally the world’s most important conceptualist artist from the 1960s right through today. Her paintings are incredibly minimal, spare, elegant, beautiful — and coveted by collectors and institutions
like the Museum of Modern Art. While I was visiting, I got to look at one of her more beautiful types of work, what are known collectively as Starry Night. These are extremely rare and sought after.
I was offered the chance to buy one for $600,000; today, that same work is valued at $5 million-$7 million. So the punchline is that I was all ready to go with the purchase, but I was also simultaneously getting divorced. My attorney interceded and said that were I to buy the work, it would cause all sorts of crazy litigation. There are only three things that get in the way of a true collector: death, divorce, debt. I was stopped cold in my tracks. It has haunted me ever since.
James R. Hedges, IV, Investor and CEO, John Barrett Holdings, New York City
six-panel screen, early-18th-century
English I’m in the music business, and when you’re dealing with music, it’s all about the ephemeral. The experience of music is about hearing it; the next moment it’s gone. My wife and I truly enjoy the physicality of artworks.
We live in a 1929 English Tudor Revival house, and in our great room we have huge hand-hewn timbers and a 15-foot ceiling, along with a massive wall crying out for something dramatic. In 2012, we came across a six-panel screen, early-18th-century English, made of oak, with beautiful joinery and tooled leather.
It was about to be auctioned online by a local firm called Everything But the House. On the plainer side, there was a beautiful blue fleur de lis with gold gilding, along with some intricate geometric patterns. On the fancier side, there were scenes of flowers, gardens in bloom, deer, and foxes, all tied together with vines and branches, Tudor roses, and garlands. The screen’s six panels were seven feet high, so we were going to unfold them and hang them on the wall. We put in a bid early on, but it wasn’t nearly high enough.
We loved that the screen was so tactile, and we knew that, like all great art, it would yield something new every time we looked at it. I can still see it so clearly that I am finding new things when I recall it!
John Morris Russell, Conductor, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
Khmer bracelet from Cambodia
There is one thing that I have coveted for a very long time — seven years — and it is very difficult for me to come to terms with my covetousness.Apart from a watch, I do not wear any jewelry. And I do not particularly like jewelry on men; this is what causes my confusion Many years ago. I wandered into the treasure trove that is de Vera on New York City’s Crosby Street and found what I think is the most beautiful, and simplest, object imaginable: a 12thcentury Khmer bracelet from Cambodia.
You could see that it was a solid piece of gold that had been given a simple half twist. The gold was a luminescent yellow-golden, and I had never before seen gold with such a patina and coloring. I think the combination of age, history, simplicity. And color has made this something that I always return to see every time I am in New York. Although I feel considerable relief that it is there every time I visit, it still presents me with the dilemma of whether I can really justify buying it. Perhaps next time I should give in and hang the consequences. My children starving for a couple of weeks is nothing compared with the beauty of something 900 years old.
Luke Irwin, Founder, Luke Irwin Rugs, London
Painting by Shirley Jaffe
X Encore is a painting by Shirley Jaffe (b. 1923), an artist our gallery represents. Shirley is over 90 now and has lived in Paris for more than 65 years. She paints slowly. X Encore was included in a show we were having,
and from the moment I saw it, I fell hard.
It’s a very aggressive painting, with a black X running across the bottom half. It’s obviously not a work for everyone. But I just fell in love with it, even though I had absolutely no place for an 82-inch-high painting in my apartment.
So, my “decision” to own it was one of those irrational, emotional ones. kept thinking I would buy it, put it in storage. And hope that someday I would have a place big enough to accommodate it. I figured that, given its size and expense, it wasn’t likely going anywhere soon.
I also thought that it was too sophisticated to be attractive to many people. It has a beautiful, bright palette, which was probably offputting to people, or so I wanted to believe.
But it finally sold, and I decided that its sale was great for the gallery, great for the artist, and great for the collector. I was at peace. Yet the painting has stuck with me, in part because a lot of signs in New York. Especially one right by the elevator here at the gallery, contain a black X. The upside of this story is that I ended up buying another piece by Shirley that I love equally, and that actually fits in my apartment.
Eric Brown, Co-Owner, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York City. The Art That Got Away