In 1948, when a teacher and part-time art critic encouraged his employer, New Trier Township High School, to buy “Still Life with Flowers” by a then-relatively-unknown artist, it seemed like a good idea. The teacher, Frank Holland, planned to use it in class as a prime example of American modernism. Plus, it was going for just $62.50. Turns out Holland’s was a great idea: Christie’s auction house recently sold the school’s painting for $3.1 million to an anonymous bidder. The art classes at New Trier got a lot of use out of “Still Life” over the years, but, starting in the 1970s, it ended up in storage, then in a bank vault, and was finally loaned to the Art Institute of Chicago, after another art teacher recognized its importance. When New Trier originally acquired the piece, its creator, Stuart Davis, was labeled a “lefty” artist, so his work was easily dismissed. Today it’s highly sought-after. New Trier, however, has never been short on cash. Located in a tony Chicago suburb, the 105-year-old elite high school boasts notable alumni such as Donald Rumsfeld, Charlton Heston, and Ann-Margret. “It’s ironic that’s where the work of a communist painter was found and will enrich the budget of one of the wealthiest school districts in the country,” comments one art historian. It appears, at least, that most of the money will go toward enriching the school’s art department.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.