The largest collection of 18th century Venetian paintings in America has been restored to its original American home at (1901) in Newport, RI, fifty years after many of the paintings were auctioned off as the house was being prepared for demolition.
Thanks to the extreme generosity of a small group of donors, 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 & Executive Director Trudy Coxe. “We’ve not only re-assembled 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 which 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 (1659-1734), and Preservation Society supporters responded to an appeal by donating the necessary funds to bring the paintings home.
“The importance of these fine early 18th 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 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 16th 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.
With the death of Julia Berwind, who had inherited the house from her brother, The Elms was scheduled for demolition to make way for a commercial development. The six smaller paintings 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 which had been sold at auction were donated back to the Society. Over the years, the Society has sought whenever possible to re-acquire additional original pieces of art and furniture as they become available, to restore the house as closely as possible to its original splendor.
The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island is a non-profit organization accredited by the American Association of Museums and dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture, landscapes and decorative arts. Its 11 historic properties—seven of them National Historic Landmarks—span more than 250 years of American architectural and social development.