The 40: Berkshire Museum works of art headed to auction

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PITTSFIELD — For a short period of time in the 1970s, the Berkshire Museum owned "Apollo and Marsyas" by the Italian painter Annibale Carracci.

At the time of its donation in 1977, Director Stuart C. Henry said the painting was "especially important to our collection because we have very few Italian paintings."

Two years later, the museum would learn that the painting, donated by Mrs. W. Murray Crane of Dalton, was not done by Carracci, a founder of the Baroque style. Carracci expert Donald Posner, author of a definitive monograph on the artist, confirmed in a letter to the museum, that it was not his work and said that it was most likely that of another Italian named Girolamo Troppa.

Troppa's "chameleon" style often leads to his work being attributed to other artists, an essay on the master painter in "Master Drawings from the Yale University Art Gallery, states.

Determining the correct artist and origin of a painting are all part of an extensive process to prepare a painting for auction, Sotheby's Vice President Darrell Rocha said in a recent email.

In the case of Troppa's "Apollo flaying Marsyas," two independent consultants, Dr. Eric Schleier, the world's leading expert on Girolamo Troppa and Professor Giancarlo Sestieri, a leading Italian paintings expert, both independently confirmed the work was by the artist.

Researching the provenance of a piece — its artist, time period and subsequent owners — is all part of a process that determines the value of the art. In some cases, the discoveries can lead to the piece being more valuable and in others, worth less.

When it comes to the 40 artworks the museum deaccessioned ahead of a planned sale through Sotheby's, the provenances are a way to find the connections between the community and the museum, as well the art.

Many of the pieces in the collection of 40 works were donated by either Zenas Crane, who founded the museum in 1903, or one of his family members. During the time of the Crane donations, the collection grew to include outstanding European works, as well as American portraits and landscapes.

In November 1982, an Antiques magazine article said the collection benefited from having a very small portion of its collection purchased by museum officials.

"The overall American orientation of the collection reflects the interests of local collectors and so chronicles the growth of the community's taste," the article states.

Thus, as the Berkshire Museum's donations began to come from a diverse group of community members, as opposed to that of a single family, the collection began to reflect what was hanging inside of local homes — prints by artists like George Henry Durrie and Norman Rockwell.

Gathered here are images of the 40 works sent to auction by the Berkshire Museum, along with background information and auction details for each piece, when available. 


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