Hidden Gems from History at Galleria Silecchia

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BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY DEC 7, 2018

It’s the last First Friday ArtWalk on Palm Avenue for 2018, but certainly not the least. At Dabbert Gallery, painter Victoria Mayol makes her solo exhibition debut with Contemporary Visions, and the artist will be giving a live demonstration at tonight’s opening reception. At Allyn Gallup Contemporary, Exquisite Color remains on display, showcasing the work of legends like Syd Solomon and gallery newcomers such as Sven Mohr. And down the street, under the red awning, Amy Webber’s oil paintings and her intricate and whimsical ceramics take center stage at Art Uptown Gallery.

But it’s at Galleria Silecchia that a story nearly 100 years in the making comes to its Sarasota conclusion.

Born in 1899 in the Normandy region of France, Henry St. Clair never sold a painting in his life. “He didn’t have to,” says Louis Chalupa, owner and director of Galleria Silecchia. “He painted because he loved it.” Part of a wealthy family, painting was a passion, and St. Clair worked as a restorer for the National Museum of France, including the Louvre. But he never did sell those paintings, which stacked up in a barn on the family property from 1920 to 1970, and were eventually forgotten.

By the time a nephew discovered them, St. Clair was dead and some 2000 paintings, largely French Post-Impressionism but with stylistic nods to all sorts of masters like Van Gogh and Picasso, were left without a story or a true owner. The nephew sold them all to a small Parisian art gallery, and promptly exited the narrative. Enter Diane Kaslow.

Kaslow fell in love with the work of this relatively unknown French artist, who worked in oils and eschewed canvas for painter’s board as he captured the people and beaches of Normandy in great wash-like strokes. She promptly bought four pieces. But Kaslow wasn’t the only one who began to notice St. Clair’s work, and his artist’s star began to posthumously rise.

Eventually amassing as many as 230 of St. Clair’s 2000 paintings, Kaslow soon introduced his work to the Eastern US, reselling them in galleries from Nantucket down to Palm Beach. But all good things come to an end, and as European galleries started charging more and more for St. Clair’s work, Kaslow’s low prices began to look like undercutting and, according to Chalupa, a cabal of European gallerists gave that little Parisian shop an ultimatum—stop selling to Kaslow or stop selling to them. Kaslow was cut off. But Sarasota was about to be cut in.

Today, St. Clair is recognized as one of the finest artists of his time, and Kaslow has moved to Sarasota, bringing the final 25 of her St. Clair paintings with her, where they are now on display, and for sale, at Galleria Silecchia. “What is his story?” Chalupa asks, but knows he will find no answers in the paintings on the wall. “They’re from another era,” he says.

As part of the ArtWalk, Kaslow will be in attendance tonight.

Pictured: Paintings from Henry St. Clair adorn the wall behind a bronze sculpture of Don Quixote by Nathanial Kaz at Galleria Silecchia. Photo by Phil Lederer.

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