Hunt for Treasure
Dr. Robert Savage searches high and low for the works in his extensive art collection
Dr. Robert Savage searches high and low for the works in his extensive art collection
Dr. Robert Savage grew up in an anthracite coal mining town in eastern Pennsylvania. He recently retired from his 35-year practice in plastic surgery and as an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. His “second act” is “as a budding art historian and researcher.” He enjoyed “sketching, creating caricatures and cartoons” as a boy, but, he says,“my true love for art began as a student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where I was inspired by one of those magical teachers, Sam Green.” An accomplished watercolorist, Green wrote American Art: A Historical Survey, published in 1966, which rapidly became the required reading for college art courses.there is a delightful synchronicity in that Green previously taught at Harvard and Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where Dr. Savage and his wife, Diane, now live. “After that exposure, I have pursued fine art in every museum, gallery and cathedral that my feet will take me to.” Dr. Savage learned from his experience in medicine that it is impossible to know everything and specialization is often required.the Savages love all art, from antiquity to abstract expressionism. However, they believed that in building a serious art collection, education and specialization in one or two genres seemed to make sense. “I have concentrated on New England realism and impressionism from around 1895 to the 1950s, and on a handful of contemporary artists
painting in similar styles,” he explains. “My wife prefers the art of the mid19th century, such as luminism and art from the Barbizon School. My last year of training was in Boston, where we fell in love with New England’s magical beauty and history. Our collecting started in earnest about 20 years ago coinciding with the college graduation of our oldest daughter, liberating us from some tuition responsibilities. I consider himself an ‘Equal Opportunity Collector’ in that I will buy fine art anywhere I can find it. I have purchased with some success from estate sales, even yard sales, antique shows, ebay, Craigslist, galleries, auction houses, and perhaps my favorite venue, directly from living artists.this latter experience of getting to meet the artist and understanding their personalities and techniques,” he continues,“really enhances my appreciation of their art. Obviously, purchasing from sources
other than the artists, reputable galleries and auction houses, can be risky and is not recommended for the faint of heart or inexperienced.”
The first piece Savage and his wife purchased was a small scene of Marblehead Docks by John Ward—“not the famous John Ward” he cautions.
“It cost about $150.We went back to the same antique store three times before buying it, because we thought it was a queen’s ransom at the time. After buying that lovely piece, I became addicted to collecting.”
Dr. Savage says,“many new collectors are intimidated by the concept of buying fine art.they feel that the pricing of art is a mysterious and quixotic process.” He suggests “first, educate yourself concerning the artists you enjoy. Second, take advantage of the number of online resources where collectors can look up comparable pricing for a particular piece of art. “Finally, my knowledge of value from my extensive research has made me a good, but fair, negotiator.”
When he first started collecting, his goal was “to obtain a decent example from each of the most prominent artists from Rockport and Gloucester.” He believes that he has accomplished that goal, initially concentrating on posthumous artists and rarely on the contemporary.“but then I realized there was so much great contemporary art out there, why limit myself? The extra reward of meeting the contemporary artists and visiting their studios and homes has been an enriching experience.”
Dr. Savage owns six or seven paintings by Joseph Mcgurl, whom he considers one of America’s premier, living landscape artists. On occasion, after “falling out of love with a piece” he will sell some art and put the proceeds towards the next piece that catches his eye.“serendipity can play an important, and fun, role in each collector’s hunt for treasure,” he says. One day, while delivering two paintings he had consigned to an auction house in Connecticut, he saw a large Mcgurl hanging above their reception desk.the painting was being prominently featured in their upcoming auction, the same sale where Dr. Savage’s paintings were scheduled for auction. He was ecstatic when the bidding “stalled out quite unexpectedly so I could purchase it.” He also collects antiquarian and children’s books. His children’s collection includes first or early editions of Winnie the Pooh, the Wizard of Oz series and J.M. Barrie. His other collections include 18th- and 19thcentury medical books, art books, as well as first editions by American writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
Dr. Savage has inaugurated a group on Facebook,“the Wellesley Collection – Art Review,” which began initially as a guided tour of his collection but rapidly expanded to
include “any items of aesthetic interest to me, my artist friends and others that appreciate the beauty in life. I have a lot of fun with it”
He says, “I’m branching out as an amateur art historian.” Since retirement, in addition to “Art
Review,” he has lectured on fine art, acted as an informal consultant to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and has written 75 to100 mini-biographies published on askart.com.
“I’ve recently been studying the artists of the Boston School such as Frank Benson and Edmund Tarbell. However, I’m more interested in concentrating on the women artists at this time.they were the subject of an important exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2001, A Studio of Her Own:women Artists in Boston 1870-1940.”
“I have two articles that will be published later this year.the first
concerns the artist Gertrude Fiske (1879-1961) whose works are being featured in a significant retrospective at the Portsmouth Historical Society in New Hampshire now through September. The other is about Mary Brewster Hazelton (1868-1953) whose archives, as well as many of her paintings, are here at the Wellesley Historical Society. Both women were major award winning, commercially successful artists and charter members of the prestigious Guild of Boston Artists.
“There were many women artists in Boston at the turn of the century, who were welcomed as talented students by well-known teachers at the better art schools,” he continues. “However, for the most part, women of that era were expected to forego careers, get married and have children.their passion for art was considered by many in the male-dominated establishment to a mere domestic hobby similar to cooking, knitting and gardening.therefore, much of the work of even the most skilled women artists of the time was minimized and, sadly, with the passage of time, largely forgotten. I take great pride in re-discovering people like Ms. Hazelton and Ms. Fiske, helping to pull them out of the dustbin of history and help to get them the recognition their work deserves.”
Dr. Savage is approaching his “second act” with the same intensity he gave to reconstructive and microsurgery, even keeping his hands active with minor conservation and cleaning of paintings and frames.
When he is deep into his research either in his extensive library or online, he is not easily distracted. His wife kiddingly says,“best leave him alone, Bob’s in one of his art comas.”
Next to the window is an oil, Gloucester Harbor, by William S. Robinson (1861-1945). Above the Chippendale chairs is Vermont Winter Village, Blue Nocturne, 2013, by Stapleton Kearns.
Resting on the bookcase is an oil, On Deck, by Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927). Above it is an oil, Monhegan Island Cliffs, by Charles Henry Ebert (1873-1959).
A pastel, New York Deco Skyscrapers, by Leon Dolice (1892-1960) hangs above a dresser on which is an Art Deco bust by an unknown artist.
The large painting in the dining room us an oil, Boats at Rest, by Carl Peters (1897-1980). The painting to the left of the cabinet is Gloucester Harbor, an oil by Joseph Eliot Enneking (1881-1942), son of John Joseph Enneking. In the cabinet is an...
On the left is an oil, Youngsters on the Beach, Katwyk Aan Zee Holland, by Charles P. Gruppé (1860-1940), a painting of his sons Emile Gruppé and Karl Gruppé. On the shelf on the upper right is an oil, Net Menders, by Harry Vincent (1864-1931). On the...
In the adjoining room is an oil, Gloucester Harbor by Emile Gruppé (1896-1978). In the middle is an oil, Day at the Beach by Frederick Mulhaupt (1871-1938). On the right is Still Life with Apple & Pears, an oil by Mary Walker.
On the left is an oil, Hunting Dog, by Frank Hoffman (1888-1958). On the right is an oil, Vermont Winter, by Aldro Hibbard (1886-1972).
Left: Above the sofa is an oil, Gloucester Harbor by Emile Gruppé (1896-1978). To the right of the window is Vermont Snow Covered Bridge by Aldro Hibbard (1886-1972). Above the table is Gruppé’s oil Fall Birches. Right: On the left is Motif #1,...
Robert C. Savage, M.D., in his living room. Through the doorway are, left to right, Marblehead Docks by John Ward, the first painting the couple purchased, and Rockport Mystery by George Renouard (1884-1954).
Above the bed is an oil, Massachusetts State House, Boston Common, by Charles H. Woodbury (1864-1940). Above the Windsor rocking chair is an oil, Lobster Shacks, by Harry Vincent (1864-1931).