ST. PETERSBURG — Here is the painting that almost got away.
When the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg opened its showcase of work by the late Theo Wujcik in April, curator Katherine Pill knew that a key painting by the Tampa artist was missing, but no one knew what happened to it.
"I knew this painting existed," said Pill, who pointed out that Canto IV is an important part of a series featured in "Theo Wujcik: Cantos," an exhibition on view through June 2. "For it to be discovered now, and to be able to include it in the exhibition, it all seems rather fated."
Wujcik, who died in 2014, was inspired by Dante's Inferno, an epic poem about a journey through Hell. Referring to the sections or cantos of the 1320 work, Wujcik addressed his own feelings as he traveled through his personal hell.
"This body of work was created during our most difficult year and ultimate separation," said Susan Johnson, Wujcik's ex-wife.
The 1997 painting, which is nearly nine feet tall and done with Wujcik's original mixture of charcoal and polymer emulsion on canvas, shows a coffee pot holding a reflection of seven gates. "It refers to the seven Virtues and Virgil's house in Limbo," said Pill. Virgil was Dante's guide through Hell.
Canto IV came to light when Vincent Pallares, who has an online business buying and selling items from storage auctions and estate sales, and Gus Green, an antiques and coin consultant, purchased storage units at a local auction in April. Wujcik's missing painting was among the items inside one of the units. Pallares and Green did some research and found that the Museum of Fine Arts was currently showcasing Wujcik's works.
"As soon as we saw it, I knew we had something special," said Green. "I've sold paintings at Christie's and Sotheby's, but I never got anything out of it besides a check or was able to see the painting ever again," said Pallares. "This time was really special."
The museum now owns Canto IV through a partial donation by Pallares and Green. The Contemporaries, a museum support group, donated the funds to complete the acquisition.
"I think it will be really cool to bring my daughter to the museum one day and see something I found and helped put in a museum," said Pallares.
"Theo Wujcik: Cantos"
On display through June 2 at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. Museum admission is $20, $15 seniors, military, Florida educators and college students, $10 ages 7-17 and free for 6 and younger. $10 after 5 p.m. on Thursdays. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 896-2667. mfastpete.org.