Culture Corner

Collecting Art

Bernie Langs

I’ve been acquiring works of art for most of my life, starting with the 1960s-style posters that graced the walls of my childhood bedroom. If you keep an eye out at galleries and book/gift shops, you can purchase some great and affordable pieces that will brighten living and work spaces, keeping you artistically and aesthetically satisfied for years. Here are some of my favorite works that I have on display at home and in my office.

My favorite (and the rarest) piece in my collection is this beautifully detailed watercolor design for a stained glassed window that was created by Heaton, Butler and Bayne, an English firm that produced such windows from 1862 to 1953. One afternoon in the 1980s, I acquired it at a Manhattan gallery owned by the late Spencer Samuels. I found his staff packing up to move locations and there were several unframed window designs made by the firm on the floor waiting to be wrapped up. When I expressed an interest in them, they let me purchase this one at a huge discount, much to the amusement of the owner. The scene is of Christ healing the sick with a typical English harbor in the background, complete with ships with masts. It was most likely painted in the late 1800s as a design for a church in the United Kingdom. Westminster Abbey includes a Heaton, Butler and Bayne window, installed in 1868.

Top: These ancient Roman artifacts from 100-350 AD were mostly purchased at the Antiquarium Ltd. Fine Arts Gallery at 790 Madison Avenue. Left to right: coin of the Imperial Emperor Constans (he reigned from 337–350 A.D.); bronze horse head; perfume bottle with a wonderful patina; terracotta doll’s head for a child; and Roman oil lamp. Bottom: Bronze bracelet from Greece cast in 400-323 B.C., purchased from the Sadigh Gallery Ancient Art, Inc. These ancient works are affordable since there are many scattered around Europe.

My family commissioned this painting, Still Life with Fruit, from the talented artist Walter Rondiak. It is incredible—the light striking both the fruit and the platform, the varying dimensions, the reflections, and so on. It is the first work of art visible upon entering my home. I find it as intellectually exciting as paintings in this genre by Cezanne and Chardin.

I have purchased several Japanese Edo-era woodblock prints in the Ukiyo-e style from the Ronin Gallery on 57th Street both for my own collection and as gifts. They have high end prints as well as affordable designs. The small woodblock on the top is from a series, The 53 Stations of the Takaido by the great Master, Hiroshige (d. 1858). The larger print to the bottom is by his pupil and son-in-law, Hiroshige II (1826-1869).

This rendering (with detail) of The Electric Light in Madison Square, New York, is a colorized page from the January 14th, 1882 edition of Harper’s Weekly. The image was made by artist Charles Graham shortly after arc lighting systems became implemented in cities. My wife and I bought it at the Summa Art Gallery in Brooklyn Heights in the early 1990s.

This large print with its deep, rich colors and gloriously sublime view of the hills of Tuscany was bought from the inventory of an art dealer and auction service on a cruise ship. It is the centerpiece of my living room and every guest to my home is struck by its beauty.

Used book stores often have collections of affordable old magazines, posters, and prints. This map of England and Wales was published in 1790. I bought it from the Old Book Shop in Morristown, New Jersey. The prices of such maps vary from about fifty to several hundred dollars. The store also maintains a large collection of vintage postcards of great variety, mostly under five dollars each. The maps and the postcards make for creative gift giving.

Nine years ago, I visited one of Rome’s National Museums and was stunned to sit in a large room graced on each wall by frescoes depicting faux foliage for the subterranean dining room of the famous Villa of Livia (30-20 B.C.). The decoration was created to give the illusion by the patroness of outdoor dining for her guests. I found this poster of a section of the landscape in the gift shop for the Roman Forum and I keep it on display in my home office as inspiration for my creative works.

An Anglo-Roman brooch from about 200 A.D. showcased on a shelf next to a fabulous Joe Namath/New York Jets commemorative Super Bowl III plate that my brother-in-law gave me. The brooch and the Jets’ appearance in a Super Bowl are both ancient history!

Signed (bottom right) poster for a stunning 1986 exhibition of large black and white photos taken by Philip Trager of villas in Italy designed by the architect Palladio. There was a book produced for the exhibit as well and I recently chanced upon a used copy at The Chatham Bookseller, LLC in Madison, New Jersey, which I gave to a friend who has long admired the poster.

My daughter, Jordan, made this linoleum cut print of a relaxing cup of hot chocolate while she was a middle school student. It was recognized with a Scholastic Art Award at a ceremony for students at the Morris Art Museum in New Jersey. We have it hanging in a hallway at home next to prints and posters from Italy and framed family photos.

All photos by Bernie Langs.

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