Sotheby's to auction painting found hanging in office at Pittsburgh Public Schools
By Bill Zlatos
Published: Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The painting of a doorway into a room bathed in gentle light looked nice enough to Pam Capretta when she saw it in a catalog of art that Pittsburgh Public Schools owns, so she selected it to hang on the wall in her district finance director's office.
Turns out it's a post-Impressionist painting that could be worth more than half a million dollars, and its discovery in Pittsburgh solves an 80-year-old mystery in the art world.
“I have good taste!” Capretta said with a laugh.
The painting, “Interior,” by Henri Le Sidaner, could provide sorely needed cash to care for the rest of the district's art collection.
The city school board will vote Wednesday on a recommendation to have Sotheby's of New York auction it on May 8.
The Friends of Art — a long-standing nonprofit group that acquires art and donates it to the district to inspire students — bought the painting after it was displayed in the 1933 Carnegie International art exhibition here.
The artwork was considered “missing” in art circles since.
“It was really great it turned up and we know where it is now,” said Louise “Lulu” Lippincott, curator for fine arts at Carnegie Museum of Art. “There are all these really neat treasures buried all over Pittsburgh, and it's great when one pops up.”
The district approached Lippincott in the fall about the best way to deal with its collection. That's how she learned it had “Interior.”
How the painting slipped out of the art world's view is as mysterious as the scene Le Sidaner depicts in his 40-by-32-inch work — a doors open to an empty room illuminated through a window.
Lippincott, who saw a photo of the painting, said: “It's very moody, and the coloring is very restrained.
“(Le Sidaner's paintings) are almost always pure landscapes or still life. No human figures. They're often in twilight. The idea is to create this very quiet, contemplative, slightly eerie mood.”
She said Le Sidaner was very popular at the International. At least 50 of his paintings appeared here from the 1920s until his death in 1939.
She said the Carnegie would not bid on “Interior” because the museum has two similar paintings by him.
If the board approves the sale, district officials will part with the art treasure with some reluctance.
“Nobody wants to sacrifice a piece of art unless it's for the betterment of the bigger picture of the importance of arts education in Pittsburgh Public Schools,” said Angela Abadilla, senior program officer for arts education in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
“Our district is not at a point right now where we have a lot of extra funding to restore and repair and maintain the artwork we presently have in our schools,” she said.
“The estimated value of the painting is between $400,000 and $600,000,” Abadilla said. “We are hoping it's going to fetch much more.”
Capretta added: “I know he's definitely sold paintings in the $900,000s. I would say this is an average painting of his.”
Founded nearly 100 years ago, Friends of Art has given the district more than 340 paintings, sculptures and other works of art.
Abadilla said the group suggested selling one of the pieces to restore and secure the collection.
After an appraisal, the school district and Friends agreed on selling this one if the school board goes along.
A major reason the administration is willing to part with “Interior” is because Le Sidaner is French and most of the artists in the collection are from the Pittsburgh region.
Also, the painting would raise far more money for the collection than others, and it would not be safe to display it in a school, said district officials.
Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Neighbor in East Liberty sisters’ slayings may be part of murder-for-hire case
- Qualifications of Peduto nominee for building inspection chief come up short
- FirstEnergy last to get smart meter OK
- On Pittsburgh visit, EU Ambassador says $15B aid package to Ukraine signal of support
- CCAC to offer early retirement incentives
- State Superior Court denies ex-Sen. Jane Orie’s corruption appeal
- Portion of South Busway to be detoured Friday
- Casey says C-130s to remain into ’15 at Moon base, but squadron will lose jobs
- PennDOT cash eases road repair pain in Lawrence County
- Newsmaker: Charlotte Lott
- Carnegie Library board adds three members