Theodore Coe

In 1912, artist Theodore Coe penned a breathless article for Town & Country recounting his “discovery” of a set of 16th century, Italian masterpieces in - of all places - New York City. Coe described finding the Ludovico Carracci paintings in a decorator’s storefront in the same way most would tell of running into four friends far from their homeland: “I could hardly believe my eyes, but a second look and a touch convinced me of their genuineness.”

Coe had first admired the quartet in the Countess Stachini’s Vicenza palace while on an artist’s pilgrimage through Europe. Though the paintings had never really been missing, Coe had obviously missed them, and felt their reunion merited commemoration in print. This giddiness over the Carraccis is charming, but a bit curious. Why would an American Impressionist who specialized in landscapes have been so enamored with a human-figure-filled, fine-lined work like Carracci’s?

To answer this, one must understand that Theodore Coe (1866-1958) was equal-parts artist and art lover. So much so that, after 1926, he retired his successful career as an oil painter and focused his talents on restoring and conserving the paintings of others.

The other clue is the Carracci panels themselves. They contain allegorical figures arrayed as the months of the year, and are titled “The Four Seasons.” And Coe loved seasons. For years, he structured his painting itinerary around them: Cape Cod for summers, Virginia for springs and falls, and Florida for winters. Thus, when an untitled Coe work - like the one currently held by the Kelly D Kennedy Fine Art collection - is “discovered,” the viewer has the joy seeing a familiar season in an unfamiliar light.