The Collectors Circle educates its members about acquiring art and raises money for purchases on behalf of the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Along the way its members have plenty of fun. They travel nationally and internationally to see private collections and prestigious art fairs and each spring organize a fundraising dinner that introduces three potential additions to the museum's permanent collection. Anyone may attend the dinner but only Collectors Circle members may vote. The art with the most votes is purchased by the Collectors Circle.
This year the candidates were all paintings: Portrait of Paul Robeson by Randall Davey; Moonlight, Capri by Charles Caryl Coleman; and Mountain Landscape by Alfred Henry Maurer.
The process is gimmicky; all three works have already been deemed good additions to the collection by museum officials so there are never any big surprises. But it democratizes an esoteric process that is usually in the hands of a few people such as the museum director and curator. For this selection, they may have their favorites but are pledged to neutrality during discussions.
The winner, chosen at a dinner May 3 at the museum, was Portrait of Paul Robeson, an homage to the astonishingly talented scholar and athlete (All-American football player and valedictorian at Rutgers, law degree from Columbia University) who turned to acting and triumphed in stage roles in such productions as Othello and The Emperor Jones. Davey was a protege of Robert Henri (pronounced HEN-rye), an important American painter of the early 20th century. This portrait was painted sometime between 1920 and 1925 and was once owned by the late Leonard Bernstein.
The museum does not release sales information.
This purchase provides a nice companion to Henri's Lily, a lovely painting of a little girl, and is the only other portrait in the 20th century American gallery.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or