Plainfield can’t sell $ 20 million worth of paintings to fund a youth program
PLAINFIELD – The city is not allowed to sell two paintings, with a combined value of around $ 20 million, a state appeals court ruled on Tuesday.
The city had wanted to sell the two eight-by-12-foot paintings by 19th-century German-American artist Albert Bierstadt to fund Plainield Promise, a charity that would use the money to create a financial education program for young people. of the city and a college scholarship fund and build the Plainfield Center of Excellence, a recreational educational institution.
The two paintings – “The Landing of Columbus” and “Autumn in the Sierras” – were donated to the city in 1919 by J. Ackerman Coles, art collector and philanthropist, in memory of his father, Dr. Abraham Coles, who was a teacher at Plainfield before becoming a surgeon. The paintings were held in a charitable trust by the city and were displayed in the city library and at the city hall.
Under state law, Plainfield had to go to court for permission to sell the paintings. But Union County Superior Court Judge Robert Mega ruled the paintings were donated for their historical and artistic value and there was no indication Coles intended to sell the works to Plainfield.
Plainfied then appealed the decision and the appeal court ruled in Mega’s favor.
Plainfield had argued that while “Autumn in the Sierras” was not controversial, “The Landon Columbus” contained “racist implications” and “showing it in a public forum in a community made up mostly of people of color” “ would cause irreparable harm, “according to court documents.
LILY: Plainfield: Judge prevents town from selling Bierstadt paintings to fund education program
The city argued that the painting “no longer provides aesthetic pleasure to the community” and is a “source of constant controversy”.
But the appeals committee did not accept the city’s argument that keeping the painting was impractical.
“We are not convinced by the city’s argument that current social perceptions of Columbus make continued ownership of the paintings impractical,” the court wrote. “The city is free to exhibit the painting in any location it chooses. Even if the city decides not to exhibit the painting, it can be donated to a museum where it can be appreciated and valued for its artistic value. – in accordance with the original intention behind the donation. “
The court also noted that the estimated $ 15 million value of this painting alone “reflects that it remains a highly coveted work of art.”
The appeals court also wrote that “if Coles had intended to support education in the city, as the city claims, he likely would have made a donation or bequest of money,” not a ” gift of two masterpieces worth more than any dollar. amount.”
The court concluded “that it is highly unlikely that Coles would be amendable to the sale of the paintings he cherished and given to the city in memory of his father”.
The state attorney general’s office oversees charitable trusts in New Jersey.
The New Jersey attorney general’s office oversees the trust. Deputy Attorney General Jay Ganzman said his office was not opposed to Plainfield’s requested change to the trust and his intention to sell the paintings, but had not taken a specific position on the use of the product. if the paintings were sold.
The city did not respond to a request for comment on the appeal decision.
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Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. To get unlimited access to his Somerset and Hunterdon Counties articles, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.