Learn more about the Peltz Collection from the collectors themselves
10/06/2021 News and Film, Pennsylvania Impressionists
On December 5, 2021, Freeman’s will proudly bring to auction an important group of paintings by leading Pennsylvania Impressionists from the esteemed Collection of Virginia and Stuart Peltz.
The Peltz Collection consists of sixteen fresh-to-market quintessential examples by Fern Coppedge, Daniel Garber, and Edward Redfield, as well as three rare, exceptional works by Morgan Colt, Kenneth Nunamaker and John Folinsbee, respectively.
In advance of the historic auction, Chairman Alasdair Nichol sat down with the couple to fondly reminisce and to discuss the foundation of their reputable collection and their remarkable journey as unintentional art collectors.
Alasdair Nichol: When did you first move to Bucks County and what prompted you to start collecting paintings by the Pennsylvania Impressionists?
Stuart Peltz: Ginni [Virginia] was working at the Children's Hospital. She was on call twenty-four hours a day, and we wanted to get away from that, when possible. One of her coworkers had a home up in Bucks County, right on the Delaware River. When we learned about the area and visited it, we decided we wanted a weekend home up there.
Virginia Peltz: Ultimately, we decided on this beautiful house that was built around 1737, which was beside the river. We were close to everything, and had the opportunity to visit various galleries, the same way one might go grocery shopping. Back then we had a little trailer that we hooked onto Stu’s car, and every Saturday morning we went off to all the antique shows. Our neighbors and friends in Philadelphia thought we were totally nuts. But during those fourteen years we spent in Bucks County, we created a life for ourselves that was different than anything we could have imagined. It gave us fun and focus and really enriched our marriage. We started having relationships with a whole new group of people, going out to dinner, talking about art, just sharing the joy of that experience up there.
SP: In a way, we became different people—not innately, because we are who we are—but because we became interesting people. We had developed an interest that nobody else—except the people we met up there who had similar interests—could understand or relate to.
AN: Your collection is as impressive as it is exhaustive. How did you go about building your collection?
VP: There wasn't a plan or an agenda, if you will. At least not until we really got into it. Generally speaking, we didn’t buy anything we didn’t like. That was the rule: we had to both like it, and throughout our sixty-three years together, we’ve always, interestingly enough, had the same taste. Once we realized that we were accumulating works by artists who were all associated with the The New Hope School, we started to study the history of our surroundings, especially the Phillips Mill. It is at that moment that we thought to ourselves: “Well, now we should probably only have one example by each of the artists.”
AN: So, how would you describe your collecting taste?
VP: By around this time, we had established what we thought was a preference in art. We really knew what we liked, and we even felt that we could safely tell the difference between what was good and not-so-good. As it turns out, we rejected a number of paintings, especially those without a backstory. I needed some story, some mystery, something that made it come alive. I hadn't really thought about it before this interview, but when you start looking at our art from that perspective, there is in almost every painting a story you could conjure up, if you were so inclined.
SP: Well if not a story, at least a place. For me, it was all about the location. “When was the house depicted in this painting built? Where it is now? Why might that person have built the house? Was it because the house was near a stream, or a winding road, towards the mountains etc.?”
AN: Right, so you needed some kind of a narrative.
VP: A narrative. Exactly. That is a good word for me.
AN: Judging from the receipts accompanying each work, you appear to have collected mostly within a decade. When did you decide, or what made you realize, that your collection was "finished"?
VP: I wish there was a better explanation to it, but we simply stopped collecting when we ran out of wall-space. We loved to buy art —actually I said to Stu, not long ago, "Can you believe we spent that kind of money on art?"— but we did have to stop. We were never driven to go beyond the space we had, or past the circumstances we were in. It was never collecting for collecting’s sake for us. We did it for our own pleasure and enjoyment and when we no longer had the ability to incorporate more art into our space, we stopped.
SP: It was time for us to stop. We were finished, had everything we liked and were happy this way.
Fern Coppedge, Snowy Country Side (Lambertville in Winter) | $60,000-100,000
AN: The Pennsylvania Impressionists are often seen as a "Boys Only" Club. Yet you own two important works by Fern Coppedge (the only artist represented twice in the collection, along with Nunamaker). Why is that?
VP: This was not a completely deliberate choice on our part. The first Coppedge we bought [December Afternoon (Carversville), est. $80,000-120,000] was from her mid-period. It was the occasion for us to learn about her, essentially just by observing her paintings. This is how we came to realize that we did not like a lot of her later works, which employed many garish colors and revolved around too strong contrasts in our opinion. We then came across Snowy Country Side (Lambertville in Winter) [est. $60,000-100,000], an earlier canvas showing more of her pastel-like colors. Even though we already had one, we liked it very much and felt that it was so different that we could go for it.
AN: River Road at Centre Bridge [est. $60,000-100,000] by Kenneth Nunamaker is an impressive canvas, one of the largest the artist even completed. Could you please tell me a bit more about it, and how it entered your Collection?
VP: Before buying our house in Bucks County, we visited the region a lot, and would often go over to the Swan Hotel in Lambertville. We knew about the history of the Swan, where all the nearby, and modest-means artists used to gather, especially at the bar, exchanging their paintings for whatever the hotel was willing to give them: cash, food, drinks, etc. The décor inside was marvelous. Every time we went, we were totally surrounded by Pennsylvania Impressionists paintings. The Nunamaker was the centerpiece. It was hanging over the counter, huge. It immediately appealed to us. Stu, being the businessman he was, wanted to buy it directly from the hotel. I was somehow reticent and did not think it was even possible, so we enjoyed it from afar for some time. It was not until it came to our door and was presented to us by a local dealer, that it became possible. I practically knocked Stu over with excitement, who jokingly responded that we could have bought it for less money back then.
SP: The good thing however, is that it came to us freshly cleaned, restored and beautifully framed. For us, that painting was a no brainer. We could not not have it. It walked in our door and never left.
VP: In fact, we bought the Garber [Up the River, Winter, est. $150,000-250,000) that same night, and I remember getting sick to my stomach. Mind you, we are not particularly flashy people and even if we were able to afford paintings, we did put a lot of thought before paying for anything. We didn't grow up with that kind of mentality. My parents were frugal, having gone through the Great Depression. Being careful was certainly the watchword in our family. But we simply could not not buy them, as Stu said. They were outstanding paintings and we very well knew it.
Kenneth Nunamaker, River Road at Centre Bridge | $60,000-100,000
AN: The Nunamaker is one of my favorite paintings from your Collection. May I ask if you have a favorite piece?
VP: Of all the paintings, [John] Folinsbee’s Mother and Daughter (Portrait of the Artist’s Wife and Daughter) [est. $10,000-15,000] is the one I will truly miss. It will be difficult to put anything else above my bed, which Mrs. Folinsbee and baby Joan long presided. We first saw this painting in a gallery in Plumsteadville. When I first saw it, it reminded me of a Mary Cassatt so I inquired, only to find out it was in fact painted by John Folinsbee. We looked at it for a while, but I thought it was too personal for us. Everything else we owned at that point was a landscape, and I felt as though I should know the people represented in the picture if just to consider putting it up on our wall. So, we first rejected it. But whenever we visited the gallery, the painting was still there, and we kept going back to it. The dealer, realizing that we were serious at that point, warned us: even if we were interested, he could not sell the painting to us until we had been approved by Mrs. Folinsbee herself, as well as her daughter, Joan – the two figures depicted on the portrait. The widow was in her late 90s at that time and was in need of full-time care. The family had to sell the painting to support the mother’s care. They were heartbroken at the thought of parting with it, but could not do otherwise. Ruth Folinsbee eventually invited us to come down into her lovely New Hope home. She was a little, tiny lady sitting in a wheelchair, sharp as a tack, and interviewed the heck out of us. Both she and her daughter couldn't have been more gracious. And I guess we passed the test, because we were allowed to buy the painting. I couldn't believe it. I was beyond delighted. Talk about a narrative! Now I had the story that I needed.
John Folinsbee, Mother and Daughter (Portrait of the Artist’s Wife and Daughter) | $10,000-15,000
AN: Morgan Colt rarely appears on the the market due to his limited output and the fact that many of his works were destroyed posthumously after his death at a young age. Yours [The Butcher Wagon, est. $40,000-60,000] is the best example I have seen, how did you come by it and what led you to purchase it?
VP: Malcom Polis convinced us that we should have that one. If I am being honest, while I didn't love it initially, I came to like it a lot, especially because of its backstory and its narrative [the painting depicts a local butcher wagon on his morning rounds in Bucks County].
SP: It is only after we bought the painting that we came to realize how rare, and important it was. The Michener Museum eventually borrowed it for one of their shows as it was so special, and so we came to appreciate it under a new light, from a fresh perspective.
Morgan Colt, The Butcher Wagon | $40,000-60,000
AN: Over the years, you loaned many of your paintings to major institutions in Bucks County and Philadelphia, and permitted them to be included in reference books with your name. Similarly, Freeman’s upcoming December 5 American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists sale now includes both of your names within the title. Did you ever hesitate “going public” with your collection?
VP: The publicity was never really stressed, nor did we even consider it, frankly. Somehow, as a resident of Bucks County, we thought it was normal to share the art with the community, especially one that is so drawn to the Pennsylvania Impressionists. We were suprised and thrilled to see that individuals thought that the paintings were good enough and interesting enough to be included in an exhibition.
SP: I was never concerned about the publicity or the security, but I was worried about how long the paintings would be away from my home where I enjoyed them. Usually, the paintings were requested while we were away and returned as soon as we came back. Very occasionally, museums held them longer. It was then that I was most aware they were absent from our life, of course. But they always came back. Now that we have decided to sell our Collection at auction, it feels as a more official “goodbye.”
Virginia and Stuart Peltz
AN: Even when they get dispersed or change hands, collections always retain their provenance and ownership history. What do you hope people think of when they see the Peltz Collection, and do you have any message or advice you would like to pass on to current collectors?
VP: You know, we never started out with the idea that we were collectors. Of course, the fact that we had as many paintings as we have had at one given time has obviously labeled us as such, but that was never how we viewed it.
SP: As Gini said, we are not collectors, and still don’t consider ourselves to be such. For us, it was all about buying beautiful paintings whose settings we knew. They were either pictures of that house on River Road, or the quarries across the river in sunlight. We liked those paintings because they were local and familiar to us.
VP: So, in the end, because we don’t consider ourselves collectors, we would not want to presume that our supposed wisdom would benefit anyone. We would just ask the next owners to enjoy the art as much as we have, and for as long as we did.