In a classic example of desperate times calling for desperate measures, the Wilmington Library is selling off some of N.C. Wyeth's art to pay for a new roof, a few other renovations and boost the library's dwindling endowment fund.
N.C. Wyeth is the father of America's art dynasty. He came to Wilmington in 1902 to study under one of the world's most renowned illustrators, Howard Pyle.
"N.C. Wyeth was one of the most prolific and important American illustrators and a truly great artist. His astounding technical ability is discovered not only in his early illustrations but in hundreds of wonderful landscapes, still lifes, and portraits," Jim Duff, Director of the Brandywine River Museum, said. "His work is frequently reproduced, even today, by publishers throughout the world. Exhibitions of his work are extraordinarily popular whenever they appear, and his popularity appears to be greater than ever." The museum is home to works from the three generations of Wyeth artists.
The library wil auction off 14 of Wyeth's famous "Robinson Crusoe" illustrations at Christie's in December. Wyeth painted 16 illustrations for the 1920 publication.
It's rare for so many illustrations from one book to be sold at the same time, so for art collectors, it's expected to be an exciting event that could fetch $5 million for the library, according to Delaware Online.
Wilmington library's 10 board members voted unanimously to auction the illustrations. For the last five years, they've been discussing ways to preserve their past and provide for their future. They're housed in a historic, 1922 Greek Revival building that needs a new roof and new heating and air conditioning system. As far as the future goes, the library operates on an endowment as well as funding from state and local governments. The endowment fund took a big hit with the stock market plunge.
"We're very lucky to have some valuable, non-income-producing assets to fall back on," Scott said. "And we're also really lucky we have this historic building," H. Rodney Scott, president of the library's board of managers said.
N.C. sold the paintings to the library for $2,300 in 1922.