Famous ‘Washington’ painting, a Winona museum attraction, costs $45m, double its estimated value – Reuters
WINONA — “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” a renowned painting that has been on display at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona for several years, sold for $45 million on Thursday at Christie’s auction house in New York.
The amount was a record for the artist, German immigrant Emmanuel Leutz, and sold for more than double the high estimate before the auction.
Christie’s had estimated the value between 15 and 20 million dollars.
The smaller version hung in the White House from the 1970s to 2014 in the West Wing Reception Room. The collector had loaned it to the White House and sold it to Bob Kierlin and Mary Burrichter, the founders of the Winona Museum of Marine Art.
In 2015, the painting moved from the walls of the White House to a museum spot along the Mississippi River in Winona.
When the sale was announced late last month, it created a jolt in the art world with CNN, Barron’s, The New York Times and state and local media all reporting stories about the sale. one-of-a-kind buying opportunity.
When it was auctioned off in the 1970s, it fetched $260,000, a record sum at the time for an American painting, said Paige Kestenman, American painting specialist at Christie’s.
“Washington Crossing the Delaware is one of those images that transcended artist Emmanuel Leutz,” Kestenman said. “It’s an image that has become so central to how America imagines its history.”
The painting, one of two extant versions, then depicts Gen. George Washington standing in a row boat on the freezing Delaware River as they head towards the Battle of Trenton during the American Revolutionary War.
But one person’s gain is another institution’s loss. The breathless headlines created nationally by the impending sale have overshadowed the changes taking place within Winona’s arts-oriented community.
Kierlin is the founder of Fastenal, a Fortune 500 company that sells fasteners and other hardware supplies.
The listing of Leutz’s painting was part of a larger decision by the couple to remove all of their loaned paintings from MMAM, according to local media. The collection included paintings by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe and others.
Kierlin and Burrichter did not respond to voicemails seeking comment. But in statements to the Winona Post last month, Kierlin explained that the decision to remove their holdings from the Winona Museum stemmed from a belief that MMAM had failed to achieve the economic development goals the couple had hoped for.
When he lent his collection of paintings to the museum, the hope was to make the Winona Museum a national and international artistic venue that would attract up to 100,000 visitors a year. The number of visitors has instead hovered around 30,000 visitors per year, more than three times less than the expected number of people.
“For all the money we’ve put into it, it hasn’t had a great return on its own,” Kierlin told the Winona Post. “So we thought, what could we do to get more tourism to Winona?”
The couple decided to use their collection as the cornerstone of a new downtown music and art gallery project called Minnesota Masterpiece Hall. The $35 million arts edifice would include both a music hall and a visual gallery.
Some of their collection will be on display in the new gallery space in Masterpiece Hall, while others, such as “Washington Crossing the Delaware”, will be sold to fund its construction. The venue will combine Sunday afternoon musical performances with art exhibits featuring paintings from the couple’s collection.
“It should be a shot in the arm for downtown on Sunday,” Burrichter told the Post.
The question is whether the change in strategy will diminish MMAM, a museum that has long outgrown its weight class given its distance from a metropolitan area. Or will the combination create a synthesis that makes Winona a greater artistic destination?
Roger Boulay, an assistant professor at Winona State University and the gallery coordinator, said Leutz’s painting was a “singular attraction” to the museum and a “very popular piece.” The community will miss it.
But he thinks the Masterpiece Hall, rather than being a competitor that will eclipse the MMAM, could complement the museum. For foreigners, it might change their calculations to take a trip to Winona, a 45-minute drive east of Rochester.
Rather than a two-hour drive for an hour-long art exhibit at one location, families could make a day of it: an hour at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, then lunch, followed by an afternoon in the new room, Boulay said.
“I think there’s room for a variety of arts institutions in Winona,” Boulay said. “The Marine Art Museum has brought a lot of tourism to Winona, and Masterpiece Hall will inevitably have a different feel, atmosphere and tenor.
“It will make Winona’s visit richer,” he said.
For Scott Pollock, who became MMAM’s new executive director in January, all the change and turmoil felt like “drinking from a fire hydrant.”
He said the museum would maintain its “trajectory” and mission as a smaller market place that engages visitors “with work you wouldn’t expect in these spaces.”
In fact, the circumstances could present an opportunity for the museum, he said. He notes that many public museums and collectors have collections that are in basements, invisible to the public. The MMAM offers them a destination and a showcase.
“I think that’s part of the big story here. We know that 95% of most museum collections never see the light of day. And we’re talking about masters from Monet to Picasso,” Pollock said. “We want to be seen as one of the problem-solving institutions that works in conjunction with all of these other museums around the world.”
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