Sunday, January 22, 2017

The $5 Monet

Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine, Good Weather, 1897
The White House Historical Association (White House Collection)
Before I go back to painting this afternoon, I want to tell you about an unexpected encounter with Monet while grocery shopping. Standing in front of the peppers, I ran into a friend who asked me if I had heard of the Monet that had been located in Lockland, Ohio, just a hop, skip and jump from our house. "What in the world was a Monet doing there?!" I asked...and so he sent me a copy of the story as he wrote it for the Wyoming [Ohio] Historical Society:
"An exquisite landscape painting by French Impressionist Claude Monet graces the First Family's living quarters on the second floor of the White House. This painting was shown some time ago when Public Broadcasting System )PBS) presented a tour of the White House, hosted by Laura Bush. The former First Lady paused briefly in front of the painting and mentioned it was her personal favorite, adding that it was left by the Kennedy family as their gift to the White House presidential collection, in keeping with long-standing tradition. Unfortunately for most, a private collection eliminates any public viewing and only those invited to the White House by the First Family would be privileged to see and enjoy this fine work.

However, in the early 1950's, long before the painting gained national acclaim and was given a permanent home in Washington, it hung on the wall of a modest studio apartment not far from the Lockland Post Office on Anna Street. Yes, there it was at Wally Kloth's residence, part of the Valley Swim Pool, popularly known as Phillips, just waiting to be discovered since the artist's signature was not distinguishable and no one was aware of its importance, including Wally Kloth. During the time it was in Lockland, the painting was considered an ordinary wall hanging and therefore placed in an open and informal setting - maybe too much so.

For example, when a sudden thunderstorm would end the afternoon fun at the pool, Wally thought nothing of allowing disappointed swimmers the use of his apartment phone to place calls for a ride home. Meanwhile, to escape the cold rain, shivering little wet imprs with blue lips and reeking of cholrine, would slip into the room where calls were being made - pushing, pulling, hiding, giggling and shapping towels. It was bedlam, pure bedlam, until the little stinkers were shooed out. Wonder of wonders, not once did the Monet take a direct hit or suffer collateral damage during these raids.

For a while the painting drew precious little attention from anyone, until Glenn Randall, a young lifeguard, who had lived on Fleming Road, then later on Wyoming Avenue, told Wally that he liked the picture and wondered if he would consider selling it. Wally's reply was a quick, "Sure, for a fin." Glenn, not familiar with the word fin, asked his father what it meant that evening. He returned the next morning and purchased the now-famous landscape painting by Monet for five dollars.

Years later in 1956, when Glenn graduated from Ohio University and married his college sweetheart, he realized the full market value of what he owned and traded it for his first house. After the painting was carefully restored to its original splendor, the value increased dramatically, and the art world took notice. So did the John F. Kennedy family, who bought it and then gifted it, as you know, to the White House upon their departure." ~ Glenn Lewis

You may see this painting in its location at the White House here:

Who would ever have thought that buying groceries today would have led to this fascinating story!