Published: September 4, 2012
The largest collection of Eighteenth Century Venetian paintings in America has been restored to its original American home at The Elms, 50 years after many of the paintings were auctioned off as the 1901 house was being prepared for demolition.
Thanks to the generosity of a small group of donors, The Preservation Society of Newport County has been able to purchase the last two paintings, which had been missing from the dining room of The Elms, bringing the room back to the way it looked when it was completed by architect Horace Trumbauer and interior decorator Jules Allard in 1901.
“This is a truly significant preservation story,” said Preservation Society CEO and Executive Director Trudy Coxe. “We’ve not only reassembled an important collection of paintings, but in doing so we have taken another huge step forward in restoring a National Historic Landmark to its original appearance.”
“We are especially grateful to our donors and specifically to former Preservation Society Chairman Armin B. Allen,” added Coxe. “Armin generously donated his time and expertise, which was critical to our successful acquisition of these works of art.”
The collection consists of ten paintings. The four largest canvases †two in the entrance foyer and two in the dining room †remained in place after the 1962 auction of The Elms’ collections, but six smaller canvases that had hung over the doors to the dining room were sold. In 2004, the Preservation Society succeeded in raising the funds needed to purchase four of the six and restore them to their positions in the dining room. A new round of negotiations this year with Wildenstein & Company art dealers succeeded in setting a favorable price for the last two paintings, both attributed to Sebastiano Ricci (1659‱734), and Preservation Society supporters responded to an appeal by donating the necessary funds to bring the paintings home.
The paintings comprise a series and were commissioned in the early 1700s by Bernardo Corner, a general and member of the ruling Council of Ten of the Venetian Republic, for his family’s Sixteenth Century residence. Nearly 200 years later, the paintings were purchased by Paris decorator Jules Allard on behalf of his clients, Mr and Mrs Edward J. Berwind, who were building The Elms as a summer residence in Newport.
“The importance of these fine early Eighteenth Century Venetian paintings can’t be overestimated,” said Eugene B. Roberts Jr, chairman of the Preservation Society’s Collections Committee. “Interior decorator Jules Allard specifically designed the dining room of The Elms as a backdrop for these paintings. They have now found their way back home.”
The paintings depict scenes from the Corner family’s military history, dating back to its claim to descent from the legendary Roman General Scipio Africanus, who vanquished Hannibal in 202 BCE. In addition to Sebastian Ricci (1659‱734) to whom the two newest acquisitions have been attributed, the other works have been attributed to Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (1675‱741), Paolo Pagani (1660‱716) and Antonio Molinari (1655‱704).
Julia Berwind had inherited the house from her brother and after she died in 1961, The Elms was scheduled for demolition to make way for a commercial development. Six smaller paintings in the series and most of the other contents of the house were sold at auction in 1962. At that time friends of the Preservation Society succeeded in raising enough funds to purchase the house from the developer and open it to the public as a museum. Some of the original furnishings that had been sold at auction were donated back to the society.
Over the years, the society has sought whenever possible to reacquire additional original pieces of art and furniture as they become available, to restore the house as closely as possible to its original splendor.
The Elms is at 367 Bellevue Avenue. For more information or tours, 401-847-1000 or www.newportmansions.org/explore/the-elms .
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