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World's Fair painting in St. Louis has gone AWOL more than once

World's Fair painting in St. Louis has gone AWOL more than once

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Ryan Greis

Ryan Greis of Eureka was invited last year to see Frank Duveneck's 1902 painting "Yacht Harbor" in the administration offices of St. Louis Public Schools. 

A local artist had been tracking for more than a year a painting owned by St. Louis Public Schools. He calls it and other artworks a “treasure trove” the district didn’t know it had.

Ryan Greis of Eureka was interested in “Yacht Harbor” by realist artist Frank Duveneck, which was shown at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Duveneck had, like Greis, lived in Cincinnati although a century earlier.

The Cincinnati Art Museum owns some 90 pieces by Duveneck, who died in 1919. A recent exhibition at the museum called the artist “an acknowledged father of American art.”

In researching three paintings by Duveneck exhibited at the World’s Fair, Greis found where two are now located. But he couldn’t account for one.

“I was being a gadfly and trying to find this painting that was eluding me,” he says.

He learned “Yacht Harbor” had been lost and found at least a couple times. In 1936, the New York Times wrote a story with a St. Louis dateline: “A dust-covered oil painting which has hung, forgotten in a dark corner of a grade school building here for years, may be worth $10,000.”

The painting’s original purchase price in 1902 was reported as $300. It was one of six paintings acquired to educate St. Louis schoolchildren in art and bought with $790 raised by public subscription.

The Times story said an inquiry from the Cincinnati Art Museum led to its rediscovery and removal from the school to a “vault” in the Board of Education office.

Later, the painting was exhibited at least once, but otherwise held in storage at the St. Louis Art Museum, Greis says. He found that in 1995, St. Louis schools, run then by superintendent David Mahan, asked the museum to return the painting.

More than 90 years after the painting was last reported forgotten, Greis tracked it down again. After doing research and interviews over a year, he told the school district where to find it, he says. The district confirmed last year that it relocated “Yacht Harbor” — propped up against a wall in a temporary storage building. It had a small tear above the signature.

An email to Greis from Superintendent Kelvin Adams said: “Thank you very much for your persistence and making us aware of this work of art.”

Greis, who called his interest in the painting a “passion project,” said the district seems to have done “just a careless job overall” with its historic archives.

After consulting an art gallery owner, he believes the Duveneck painting may be worth $100,000-$200,000.

“Yacht Harbor” is not one of the three paintings the district is giving to the Missouri Historical Society in a recent agreement. It’s a painting of boats off the coast of Massachusetts, and Duveneck didn’t live in Missouri, so he has little regional connection.

The school district is searching for a community partner to collect the painting and others it holds.

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