COVINGTON, Ky. (WKRC) - A painting worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is on its way back to a museum after a massive art quest. An original Frank Duveneck may still be missing today if it weren't for a little luck and a lot of passion. It's called "Yacht Harbor" -- one of Frank Duveneck’s later paintings done around the turn of the 20th Century. James Ott wrote the book on Frank Duveneck.
"In his later years he kind of turned to impressionism, and a good deal of that painting was done in Glouster,” said James Ott, author of The Greatest Brush, Love: Tragedy and Redemption of Artist Frank Duveneck.
120 years later, a man named Ryan Greis would set out on a trek to find that painting -- a painting that had all but vanished.
"Really I have no business looking for this artwork,” said Ryan Greis during a Zoom interview. “Because I'm not an art historian.”
Ryan is very familiar with Duveneck, though, having grown up in Covington, where the artist was born and reared. Statues in the town square -- exhibits in local museums. So when Ryan moved to St. Louis, he was curious if Duveneck had been there as well. Duveneck had, in fact -- the St. Louis School District had purchased a Duveneck painting in 1902 called "Yacht Harbor" for $300, the St. Louis Dispatch ran a story on it. The district in 1904 loaned that painting to the World's Fair -- which was in St. Louis that year.
"That got me thinking, 'Well, what happened to the artwork?' Ryan pondered.
So began Ryan's trek to find “Yacht Harbor”. His research showed the painting went back to the school district. In 1937, the St. Louis Art Museum wanted it for an exhibition. It stayed with the museum for 58 years, and that's when Ryan's trail went cold.
"We had the St. Louis Art Museum return the painting to us,” said Sharon Dolan. She was the archivist for the St. Louis School District. She remembers “Yacht Harbor” well.
"Once we obtained it back from the St. Louis Art Museum,” she recalled. “I had it put on display at the archives. It was a beautiful painting. Up to the time I retired, it hung in the hallway of the archives of the St. Louis Public Schools."
That was 2009. The school district sold the building, and once again, the painting vaporized.
"So I was really turning up some dead ends here,” Ryan said. “I was like, 'What happened to this painting?'"
Finally, Ryan tracked down a Missouri History Museum employee. He found a picture from an interim storage building. And there it was, “Yacht Harbor”, propped against a wall gathering dust. Ryan contacted the current superintendent of schools, who found the painting still sitting in the dust. He collected it, cleaned it up, and invited Ryan to come see it.
"There were a lot of emotions,” recalled Ryan. “But mostly just excitement and relief -- relief that this mission, this adventure, was finally over and it was successful."
"I think his perseverance is to be lauded,” smiled David Hausrath, who owns Cincinnati Art Galleries. He says the painting is quite valuable. "I would imagine you're looking at $100,000 to $200,000, potentially. Perhaps even more."
James Ott says he's glad “The Harbor” is back.
"It's amazing really that it was found,” said Ott. “I had a feeling it was just misplaced."
Misplaced, but not forgotten, by a guy who was seeking a connection to his childhood, and who found a historic piece of art.
The St. Louis Art Museum is working to exhibit "Yacht Harbor" soon. The Cincinnati Art Museum opened a new exhibition last week called, “Frank Duveneck: American Master.” The show runs through March.