I walked around my home one afternoon and looked at all the art I had purchased with my wife and alone in the past thirty-five years. I wondered what would happen to all this work when we were gone; which of our children would want which pieces and which items they would choose to sell off.
Where did the value of this inheritance truly lie I asked myself. In the resale value of the art or in the meaning and significance the work had to us directly? Professionally, I know how fickle the secondary art markets can be. There are only certain pieces in our private collection that might attract a decent dollar return above what we paid for them and even then, my children’s ability to locate the right dealer or collector and negotiate a fair share of the sale will be crucial.
I expect their decision about whether to keep the work for themselves will be based less on the cash value they can secure and more about what they want to preserve and include in their lives and in the lives of their children. They will have their own interests and tastes in art to guide those decisions - but will they have the chance to know how that art entered our lives and the other elements of value a collection represents.
That same day I began taping hand-written notes with the artist’s name, title and medium on the back of paintings and underneath the base of sculpture and ceramics all over the house. I checked my files and started to organize and reference the invoices and prices of the art where I had them.
I was holding a small, 12” x 18” oil on canvas painting in my hands when my oldest daughter walked into the room.
“Are you finally getting rid of that painting?” she asked.
“Why? You don’t like this?” I responded.
“It’s OK,” she said, “but it’s nothing really special. Honestly, I never understood why you and Mom have kept it around so long.”
“We bought this painting right before our wedding,” I quickly explained, “from an artist who lived in my building on the Fenway. He had just started taking off, getting notice and acclaim and it was all exciting for him. The day we went by his live-work studio to choose a painting we all walked to his new gallery on Newbury Street in Boston to look at his newest works on canvas. It was a very cold winter day and the streets were pretty empty. We sat with the Gallerist and the artist looking at all these extraordinary paintings of his that looked like they hadn't even dried yet. I distinctly remember thinking the paint glistened like wet paint can. David, the artist, talked to us about the landscapes he painted and the painters who had inspired him.
Your mom and I made it our wedding gift to each other. It took us nearly two years to raise the $350 to have it framed before we could hang it on our wall. We kept in touch with the artist but never had the chance for him to see it in our home. He died of AIDS shortly thereafter.
It is probably the most beautiful and treasured piece we have ever bought. I can remember the look on your mother’s face that day; and I relive that entire memory each time I see the wind, the sea, the clouds and sky in this painting.”
“I love this painting,” that same daughter exclaimed. “I never saw how beautiful and perfect it really is. Maybe that can be mine some day?”