GRAY, Maine – Though the name of Dutch artist Philippe Smit (1887-1948) may not be as familiar as that of his countryman, Vincent Van Gogh, the two artists have more in common than just their homeland. Both artists’ works were appreciated and collected by the late Reverend Theodore Pitcairn (1893-1973), philanthropist and heir to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass fortune. Pitcairn purchased works by both artists for the first time in 1921. He met Smit in person at that time and went on to become his patron, eventually accumulating 50 of Smit’s works. Cyr Auction Company will sell 10 of these bold, often spiritual, paintings and pastels on July 16, 2008.
According to an Associated Press article written by Lee Linder in 1967, Pitcairn purchased three Van Goghs for $20,000 in 1921. Pitcairn explained, “in those years the Dutch artist wasn’t well known here.” Forty-five years later, in June 1966, Pitcairn sold Van Gogh’s portrait of a young girl in a blue dress, Portrait de Mademoiselle Ravoux, for a record price.
Pitcairn, who had retired as minister of the Lord’s New Church Swedenborgian by this time, was selling the majority of his artwork to benefit the church and the arts. When asked by Milton Esterow of The New York Times if he had any advice for art collectors, Reverend Pitcairn responded, “I never bought anything with the idea that it was an investment. I bought the things that I wanted to hang in my house.” (The 1967 sale of his La Terrace a Sainte-Adresse by Claude Monet was the highest ever paid for a Monet at that time.)
The month after the sale of the Van Goghs, Pitcairn sold three paintings by El Greco for four times his original purchase price. When asked about the remainder of his collection, mostly the Smit paintings, he described Philippe Smit as a Dutch artist “who’s rather generally known and whose work is not cherished by today’s art world.” Pitcairn, smiling, said “Smit will probably turn out to be like El Greco, whose paintings weren’t big sellers until 300 years later.”
Or, it could be that, like Van Gogh and Monet, it will take less than 100 years after Smit’s passing for the world to truly appreciate his work that Pitcairn and his family have treasured all these years. The upcoming, rare opportunity to purchase paintings by Philippe Smit will tell the tale. An immediate, online preview of Smit’s work is available by going to www.cyrauction.com and selecting the “photo gallery” option for the July 16 Victoriana & Fine Arts Auction. Please contact us at (207) 657-5253 or Info@cyrauction.com for additional details.