COURTESY PRESERVATION SOCIETY OF NEWPORT COUNTY
HIGH SOCIETY: The Preservation Society of Newport County paid $650,00 for two paintings, both attributed to Sebastiano Ricci, an 18th-century Italian artist.
By Rebecca Keister PBN Staff Writer
The Preservation Society of Newport County’s reacquisition of two 18th-century Venetian paintings that puts back together the largest such collection in the United States has completed the mansion’s dining room restoration at The Elms.
“It’s all very, very exciting, because we lost the paintings,” said Trudy Coxe, the society’s executive director. “The process has gone on for decades.”
The society earlier this summer paid $650,00 for the two paintings, both attributed to Sebastiano Ricci, an 18th-century Italian painter in the style of grand manner fresco painting, and valued at more than $1 million collectively.
The paintings were purchased from Wildenstein & Co., a New York City art dealer, which had purchased the paintings at auction in 1962.
The society took possession of the paintings almost 50 years to the date they were sold off.
“It’s kind of ironic,” Coxe said. “All of our donors were very interested in making sure we didn’t [lose focus] after the paintings hadn’t been sold in the last 50 years.”
The Elms was completed in 1901 after a two-year construction process after having been commissioned by the Berwind family.
In 1962, after the last family resident in earnest, Julia Berwind, died, and no other family was interested in taking over, the estate auctioned off the mansion’s contents.
The estate then sold the mansion to a developer who slated it to be torn down, but the society was able to raise purchasing funds and then opened the mansion as a museum.
Since then, the society has worked to reacquire the mansion’s original contents and otherwise restore it to its original 1901 condition.
“This is truly a significant preservation story,” Coxe said. “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.”
The Elms boasted a collection of 10 18th-century Venetian paintings when it went to auction.
The paintings were commissioned in the early 1700s, the society said, by Bernardo Corner, who was a general and member of the ruling Council of Ten of the Venetian Republic, for his family’s 16th-century residence.
Paris decorator Jules Allard purchased the paintings for the Berwind family when the Elms was being built.
“Interior decorator Jules Allard specifically designed the dining room of The Elms as a backdrop for these paintings,” said Eugene Roberts Jr., chairman of the society’s collections committee, in a statement. “The importance of these fine … paintings can’t be overestimated.”
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