Painting fetches $750,000 for Pittsburgh schools

1931 work depicts French artist's home

When Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Linda Lane learned that the district owned a valuable French oil painting, her first word was "wow."

She was still saying "wow" Wednesday after she saw a Sotheby's auctioneer in New York City accept the final bid of $750,000, about double what was expected for the painting.

The district will get the full amount that was bid, known as the hammer price, said Pete Camarda, chief financial and operations officer for the district.

The full purchase price is $905,000, including a buyer's premium set by Sotheby's.

Sotheby's, which said the buyer is anonymous, had estimated that the painting would draw $350,000 to $450,000.

Translated from the original French, the painting by Henri Le Sidaner is called "Interior, Light from the Window" and depicts the interior of his home in Versailles, France. It was painted in 1931 and donated from the 1933 Carnegie Institute's International Exhibition of Paintings in Pittsburgh -- now known as the Carnegie International -- to the school district by Friends of Art.

Over nearly a century, Friends of Art has donated more than 300 works of art to the district. Most of the donated works are by local artists and are displayed in schools and other buildings throughout the district.

The proceeds from Wednesday's sale are intended to enable the financially strapped district to take care of other donated works of art and make them more accessible to students for educational purposes.

Louise "Lulu" Lippincott, curator of fine arts at Carnegie Museum of Art, said, "I thought it was a great price. I understand that a lot of things in that sale did really well. Clearly, there were a lot of potential buyers. I'm told on this piece that there were two people who wanted it badly and bid the price up. That's all it takes."

She described the sale as "wonderful" because it provides the district with the resources to take care of the rest of the collection.

A landscape by the same artist was auctioned just ahead of Pittsburgh's piece. It was expected to sell for $60,000 to $80,000 and sold for $233,000, counting the buyer's premium.

Ms. Lippincott said compositions from the artist's house in Versailles typically sell for a higher price than his landscapes do. The Carnegie owns one of each, including a landscape that is on display.

Angela Abadilla, senior program officer for arts education in the school district, said that the art world didn't realize the district had the painting.

"It was like the mystery piece that surfaced again of his work," she said.

Sotheby's did not charge the district for flying to Pittsburgh to see the painting, shipping it, insuring it, cleaning it and providing a new gold frame for the painting, which measures 39.5 inches by 32 inches.

Ms. Lane, who initially was an art major in college, was in New York City last week for a meeting and hopped a cab to see the refreshed work on display.

"It was breathtaking," she said. "The fabulous thing about it is the light coming through the window, especially on the French door. There's something about it that's so compelling. It's the kind of room that you'd just like to be in yourself."

Perhaps the person who will miss the painting most in Pittsburgh is Pam Capretta, executive director of finance and facilities management.

The painting -- then behind glass and in a less suitable frame -- adorned the wall of her office for several years because she liked it, not because she realized it was particularly valuable.

"The painting is light coming into a room. It could brighten up your day," she said.

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Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955. First Published May 8, 2013 5:15 PM


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