By Tara Mae
An opportunity to own priceless art is a chance to be part of living history. It does not come without a cost, but it can be worth the expenditure. On Saturday, Oct. 22, starting at noon, South Bay Auctions of East Moriches will offer such a possibility when it auctions off portraits of Captain Jonas Smith and his wife Nancy Williamson Smith of Stony Brook by local 19th century artist William Sidney Mount.
“Mount is significant to both art and local history. It is not often that his paintings come up for auction,” said Joshua Ruff, Co-Executive Director of the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook which has the largest collection of Mount’s paintings, drawings, correspondence, and archives.
Primarily known for his genre paintings, Mount was born in Setauket in 1807 and spent many years living in Stony Brook in between and after brief periods in New York City. He painted the places and people he knew, frequently of the Three Villages. Initially drawn to history painting, which he greatly admired, Mount’s portraiture was not born of his inherent interest in the material but rather a timeless dilemma for so many artists: his other work was not selling and Mount needed to earn a living.
Mount’s first portrait subjects were easily acquired; he initially painted himself and close relatives before offering his services to a better paying public. Among his early patrons were members of the Weeks, Mills, Strong, and Smith families, all of whom have prominent ties to the Three Villages.
Captain Jonas Smith and his wife Nancy Williamson Smith were particularly lucrative commissions. Captain Smith, who owned and operated a fleet of merchant ships that sailed internationally, is considered to be Long Island’s first self-made millionaire.
Their oil portraits were most likely done in Mount’s studio, according to Jean-Paul Napoli, Co-Owner and President of South Bay Auctions. Mount apparently charged Captain Smith $70 for the pair in 1836, the equivalent of about $2000 today, when adjusted for inflation.
Privately owned, the portraits were obtained by the auction house from a collector who had moved from Long Island to Boston. “The owner felt they should be offered on Long Island where they originated,” said Napoli.
Also up for auction is two portraits by Mount’s brother Shepard Alonzo Mount; a painting of Port Jefferson Harbor by William Moore Davis; two lithographs by Stow Wengenroth; a recently uncovered oil painting by Robert Motherwell; and works by Whitney M. Hubbard, Caroline Bell, Julia Wickham, William Steeple Davis and Joseph Hartranft.
The artwork is available for viewing at no charge from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Oct. 21 and by appointment. “I think this auction has a nice collection of fine art from Long Island and New York artists. Even if you are not interested in acquiring anything, it is an opportunity to see works that will in most cases not be in the public eye after the sale,” Napoli added.
South Bay Auctions is located at 485 Montauk Highway, East Moriches. Participants in the auction may bid in person or live online at www.Invaluable.com and www.LiveAuctioneers.com. Telephone and absentee bidding is also available. For more information, call 631-878-2909.