Provenance

10

Dear Artist,

In May, a police detective called to let me know that one of my Dad’s paintings had been recovered from a stash of over 1,000 works of art found in three storage lockers around the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island. I had just written to you about those very storage lockers in a letter called Ethics and art galleries.

Snug Basin, Barkley Sound, c. 1979 Oil on mahogany panel 8 x 10 inches by Robert Genn (1936 - 2014)

Snug Basin, Barkley Sound, c. 1979
Oil on mahogany panel
8 x 10 inches
by Robert Genn (1936 – 2014)

The detective’s call was part of an investigation into the new owner of Winchester Galleries, opened in 1974 and up until 2019, a flagship of Canadian art. In April, a local collector had consigned to the gallery three Emily Carrs and a watercolour by David Blackwood. When the collector tried to follow up, the new owner, it seemed, had shut the gallery and vanished. The consignor notified the police, who quickly discovered a myriad of complaints, and soon seized, under warrant, a stash of works by over 140 artists, worth what the police estimate to be in the tens of millions of dollars. They also arrested the guy, who faces charges of fraud and false pretenses.

Even though my Dad was not officially represented by Winchester, over lifetimes, galleries and artists may float in and out of each others’ orbits – this is the kind of professional family we belong to. And so, the detective’s call was not a surprise. After an animated chat, he emailed me an image of an 8 x 10-inch mahogany oil panel of Snug Basin in Barkley Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island – a place my Dad would have tucked into numerous times on his vintage 1912 tug, the Swell, setting up in the sunshine, on the fantail. This is where this little painting would have begun its life, before it was carted home in a wet box. Its particular and special qualities spoke to me of my Dad’s respect for the event of the fantail, of his ardent love of the sleepy cove, and his regard for the gallery when he finally sent it to them. I verified the painting’s authenticity. This week, after a spell in the arms of good dealers, then as an imposter’s hostage, Snug Basin was returned to our family.

The Swell featured on CBC’s The Beachcombers. In the October, 1974 episode, titled "The Swell!" Jesse decides to run away and join the crew of The Swell. R.I.P. Pat John (1953- July 13, 2022), who played Jesse.

The Swell featured on CBC television’s popular primetime adventure comedy, “The Beachcombers”, which ran for 19 seasons. In the October, 1974 episode titled “The Swell!”, Jesse decides to run away and join the crew of the Swell.
R.I.P. Pat John (1953- July 13, 2022) (pictured lower left), who played Jesse.

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “We know they have a sentimental value that is hard for us to comprehend. We will do our very best to reunite the owners with their work.” (Markus Anastasiades, public information and communications officer at the Saanich Police Department)

“I suppose what you’re doing as a painter is making a record of your trip through life. I can’t think of any job that is quite as satisfactory as doing a painting.” (Robert Genn (1936- 2014))

The Swell on Mudge, 1980 Acrylic on canvas 24 x 47.5 inches by Robert Genn

The Swell on Mudge, 1980
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 47.5 inches
by Robert Genn

Esoterica: The detective and his colleagues are in the midst of a heartened effort to return every piece of seized artwork to its rightful owner. But there are those consignors who will not be reunited, because their paintings were sold, and recovering funds, say the lawyers, can be tricky. Those people, I imagine, are heartbroken. As for the fraudster, according to the newspapers, his mortgage is in default, and he still owes for part of the selling price of the gallery, plus back-rent on the gallery space. “My clients have put their whole life and energy into making that gallery what it was,” said lawyer for the previous owners, Nicholas M. Vaartnou. “Unfortunately it seems like the new owner did not treat it the same way.”

Artists and consignors wishing to inquire about missing art consigned to Winchester Galleries can email the Saanich police at art@saanichpolice.ca.

“Do not let yourself be tainted with a barren skepticism.” (Louis Pasteur)

Dad on the fantail of the Swell, circa 1974.

Dad on the fantail of the Swell, circa 1974.

“Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
(W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven)

“Others have told me you can feel it in your brush, and I do now. A family of mergansers swims close by – the young are almost ready to fly south. Perhaps you have felt it too – it has something to do with purity.” (Robert Genn


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10 Comments

  1. Intrigue in the art world. Glad this piece of your Dad’s life is back in the family. Sad that some people allow their hearts to take them to the dark side. I praise God this person has been caught and the retrieved paintings will find their homes soon. Kudos to the Law Enforcement!

  2. Dorothy Murrell on

    I love this column – the convoluted world of art, the history of the Swell, the photo of the cast of The Beachcombers, and the note about Pat John, all tied together through you and your dad.

  3. I am glad that your Dad’s painting is back with you Sara. The Winchester Gallery was always a favourite of mine even though I didn’t get there often. I remember seeing a David Blackwood show there and another by Joseph Plaskett of his later still life paintings that stand out from the other shows. Since I do have a few paintings in a collection that includes a large oil painting by Emily Carr oil painting and other paintings by various members of the Group of Seven, I hope that they never suffer such a fate. But once paintings leave our art studios they truly do have a life of their own. I recently heard about one of my paintings that was being held as collateral for money owed. Another was lost in a flood and one has already rescued from a deceased parent’s attic storage box. I just keep painting them and hope that some will be taken care of and still be appreciated a couple of hundred years from now, if our human civilization still exists by then. One can hope and hope that artists are still making art and art collectors are still collecting art in an art world with integrity and good will. All the best of the weekend everyone.

  4. This is not the first story of an art gallery owner being such a poor business person, artist suffered the losses due to their ignorance. I’d say it is the most shocking one, tho, for our small city of Victoria. I can’t help but feel sorry for this person who allowed this to happen. Did they think buying an art gallery was about the same as buying an ice cream stand? I do hope all the artworks find their way back to their creators, great work, Saanich Police! I recall in my learning/workshop attending days being told by an instructor to not allow our own works to become “too precious”. But this letter reminds me that some things about making art is precious, and that’s really why we do it. Love the calming inspiration you letters bring me, Sara, THANK YOU!!

  5. I used to be in Winchester Galleries, but fortunately had removed all my work before the previous owner sold it. It was considered the most prestigious gallery in Victoria, and in fact the owner at one point had 3 separate galleries in different locations in Victoria, I’ve had shows in two of them. He handled a lot of high-end contemporary paintings as well as historical European paintings; his local artists, especially me, were of lesser importance. He did put his heart and soul into his galleries and he must feel devastated to know what the new owner has done to the reputation of his beloved gallery. And I know this kind of fraud happens in other galleries too, we leave our work in a gallery as an act of faith. If the gallery shuts down, I believe all the paintings go into receivership and the artists get nothing. I know that happened with another gallery in Victoria some years ago. At least in this case the police are trying to locate the artists, and I’m really glad that your family got this one paintng back.

  6. It happened to me with another artist’s work left on consignment, in Seattle. I had to take the owner of the gallery to court to recover the funds, waiting until that dealer had sold her house, once a lien was placed upon it. Her excuse to the judge was that the gallery had run into financial problems. The judge was not impressed and the gallerist was ordered to meet her responsibilities.
    Yes, paintings disappear, my own included, out of friends and relations homes alike. And I wonder about them. Thanks for your article, Sara.

  7. In the early 90’s I had several paintings in the Winchester gallery in oak bay. Bernie, the owner at that time was such an encouragement to me as I was just getting on my feet as an artist.

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https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Invitation-wpcf_298x300.jpegInvitation
20 x 20 inches
Oil on Canvas

Featured Artist

I am inspired by the drama of light as it moves along forms, the rhythms and nuances of shapes, and the colours that change from subtle to vivid at any give moment. My expressive compositions, in oils, acrylics or watercolours, are a contemplative and heartfelt response to my experiences, representing the “visual music” I feel. Each brush-stroke is like a colour note or chord playing out the scene offering a connection with the viewer through dynamic movements and vibrant colour.

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