Prendergast Library Oil Paintings Auction To Start Next Week

Pictured are oil paintings that used to hang in the Fireplace Room at the James Prendergast Library. P-J file photo by Gavin Paterniti

The first oil paintings from the Prendergast Library will be auctioned off starting next week.

R. Thomas Rankin, president of the James Prendergast Library Board of Trustees, said three auctions have been scheduled by Sotheby’s of New York for the oil paintings the board approved to have sold by the auction house, with the proceeds going toward the library’s endowment fund.

Rankin said the first auction will be held Friday, which will include four to five pieces done by American artists. The second auction will be held Tuesday, Nov. 21, which will contain 15-20 paintings done by European artists. The third auction will take place in January with the remaining art pieces to be sold. Rankin said if people go to Sotheby’s online they can see the American artist pieces that will be auctioned off next week.

In June, the library board unanimously approved a resolution cosigning the bulk of the art collection to Sotheby’s. In May, Tina Scott, library executive director, said the artwork was estimated to be worth $1.2 million-$1.6 million in 2015. The Tina Scott, library executive director, said the artwork was estimated to be worth $1.2 million to $1.6 million in 2015. The library board did not sell any Prendergast family portraits or any Roger Tory Peterson’s prints.

The action by the library board to hire an auction house took place following nearly two years after they first agreed to hire Sotheby’s to sell the art. However, the efforts by a group of area residents known as Save Local Art protested the auction and wanted the library board to keep the collection intact in Jamestown.

In December 2015, the board approved a proposal from the Jesse and Cathy Marion of Houston, Texas, to not auction the oil paintings from the Prendergast will or estate or from the Packard family in exchange for $60,000 in 2016. Rankin said, in December 2015, library officials would focus their attention in 2016, with the help of the Marions and the art community, on finding community-minded individuals or organizations that would want to buy the oil painting collection to keep it in Jamestown.

Rankin said in May that no individuals or organizations from Chautauqua County ever approached the library board with an offer to keep the art local.

According to an op-ed from Save Local Art that was printed in The Post-Journal June 13, the Marion’s made a purchase offer of $1,170,000 to the library board for the art collection last fall.

However, a ruling from the state Attorney General’s Office prevented the sale from happening.

In May, the board approved an agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office to hire a qualified auction house to sell the oil paintings in the library’s art collection. Rankin said, in May, the deal with the Attorney General’s Office stems from the petition filed Sept. 16, 2015, by the James Prendergast Library Association with 8th Judicial District Surrogate Court Judge Stephen Cass. At the time, library officials filed the petition to obtain legal approval to sell art housed at the library. The oil paintings were purchased following the death of library founder Mary Prendergast in 1889. Prendergast left $25,000 to the executor of her will to purchase art for the library.

Rankin said the state Attorney General’s Office has oversight in New York state over nonprofit entities, like the library, and when the library board filed the petition for surrogate court’s permission to sell the artwork, the Attorney General’s Office was notified. The attorney general would only consent to a sale of the art collection if the library agreed to use an auction house that could market the collection nationally and internationally.