As part of Maine’s Bicentennial, the Tides Institute & Museum of Art mounted an exhibition of works from its collections ranging in date from 1820 to the present. In addition, the Tides Institute will publish a Bicentennial book featuring 100 works from its collections and the stories behind the works and how they came into the Tides Institute’s collection. Each week, one of the selected works will be featured in our weekly online posting, CulturePass, to this region’s cultural activities and on our website here.
This week’s piece is a large oil on canvas portrait painting of retired fisherman, Frank Thompson, by New York City based artist, George Pearse Ennis (1884-1936). It dates to 1934, two years before the tragic death of Ennis in a car accident in upstate New York. Ennis directed a summer art school in Eastport, Maine during this time and Thompson lived next to the building that the school leased during the summer and he did odd jobs for the school while it was in session. The portrait painting was exhibited in Eastport at the end of the summer of 1934 and then exhibited in New York City where it was sold. Nearly 75 years later we got a telephone call from someone in California who then owned the painting and who wanted to know more about George Pearse Ennis. We told him what we knew and asked the individual if he ever might be willing to sell the painting to us. The individual replied that he would have to think about it. Weeks went by and then he contacted us again and said that he would be willing to sell the painting to us for $10,000. That was much too much for us, but we thanked the individual and then put the painting out of our mind. A year went by and the painting ended up coming clear across the United States where we learned it was up for auction at the Northeast Auction company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The minimum bid for the painting was $1500. We said to ourselves, nothing ventured, nothing gained and submitted a bid for $1500 thinking that we did not have a chance of getting the painting. Lo and behold the painting sold for our $1500 bid and we were able to bring the painting back to where it was created.