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Friday, February 22, 2013

Ronald Reagan’s Favorite Audubons

“Canvas Backed Duck”
With a View of Baltimore in the Background
John James Audubon
Plate 301 From Birds of America, London: Robert Havell, Jr., 1836
Aquatint engraving with original hand-color
Retail price: $175,000: Very special price for you: $90,000
Price realized at auction, Christies New York - June 25th, 2004, $71,700

The Day I Sold Three of the Aquatints of John James Audubon to President Ronald Reagan

In the Summer of 1985, it looked like the reign of the greatest museum director of the 20th century was coming to an end. He was being replaced by someone who has curried the favor of the wife of the most powerful man in the world. It was at this time that he called me to replace some of the oil paintings in his bosses office with Audubons.
Clem Conger built a glorious collection of American Art and Furniture during the 30 years that he curated the collections at the White House and the State Department. He was an elegant, knowledgable, attractive man who had an uncanny ability to raise money and get donations of furniture and artwork like no one else.

Over those forty years Clem acquired magnificent Americana from collectors time and time again. Sometimes this broke the hearts of other museum directors but how could they win against a man whose client was the President of the United States.
Of course I was not allowed to make my pitch for these Audubons directly to the President. But I was allowed to drive them down to the White House where Clem brought in a selection of 25 of the best images. Almost instantly Reagan selected the three that had the city views in the background - the Canvas Backed Duck with Baltimore, The Long Billed Curlew with Charleston and the Great White Heron with Key West were his choices. Wow. What a day. It was exciting and an honor to have been selected for this project. In 1986, Mr. Conger was replaced as curator by Rex Scouten, who had established a close relationship with Nancy Reagan as chief usher of the White House. Mr. Conger retired from the State Department in 1992. He was not honored nearly as much as he should have been but not getting along with a President’s wife back then was a crime without pardon.



“Great White Heron”
With a View of Key West in the Background
John James Audubon
Plate 281: Great White Heron
From Birds of America
Aquatint engraving with original hand-color
London: Robert Havell, Jr., 1836.
Retail price: $190,000
Very special price for you: $120,000
Price realized at auction, Christies New York - June 25th, 2004: $101,575


“Long Billed Curlew”
With a View of Charleston in the Background

John James Audubon
Plate 231: Long Billed Curlew
From Birds of America
Aquatint engraving with original hand-color
London: Robert Havell, Jr., 1836.
Retail price: $185,000
Very special price for you: $110,000
Price realized at auction, Christies New York - June 25th, 2004: $89,625



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