Dispute over Thomas Cole’s Painting Comes to Court

“Portage Falls on the Genesee”, by Thomas Cole

The cachet of owning a Hudson River School painting is probably as great as that of owning an art work by the Barbizon School artists. The credit for founding the Hudson River School is attributed to Thomas Cole (1801 – 1848), an Englishmen who immortalized the Catskills and Adirondacks, and established a studio which welcomed the likes of Frederic Edwin Church, and Asher Durand.

One of Cole’s paintings once hung in the house of Gov. William H. Seward, in Auburn, the Seward House Historic Museum. However, the Fred L. Emerson Foundation, owner of the work and former overseer of the museum, removed the painting with intent to sell it. In 2008, the work was allegedly appraised at $18 million and the Foundation decided that this valuable painting is not properly protected in the Seward Museum. Clearly, it is easier to protect millions in a bank than a work of art in Auburn.

Seward’s descendant, Ray Messanger,  is challenging the Foundation’s actions and seeks New York State Surrogate’s court’s intervention to stop the sale and return the painting to the Seward Museum. While the Foundation is preparing a response (due September 27) against the petition to block the sale, read Lee Rosenbaum’s excellent report on the background of the matter and Jason Lilien’s, Charities Bureau chief, speaking in support of donor’s intent at ArtsJournal.

Source: Dave Itzkoff, “Oil Painting by Thomas Cole In New York Court Dispute,” The New York Times (Sept. 13, 2013).

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