John M. Gurnett (grandfather of my husband, Pat) was an attorney in Omaha in the early 1900’s. As was the norm in those days, he sometimes accepted goods instead of money for his services. One of the things he had received was a painting that the family had named Cupid and Psyche. The family story was that Grandpa Gurnett had represented the Joslyn family at one time and the painting was given as a token of appreciation for work done.
When Pat’s grandparents died over 30 years ago, all of the children received one of the treasures from the house — Pat’s older brother got a brass bed, Pat received an antique shaving stand and his little brother received the Cupid and Psyche.
Pat became enchanted, enthralled and finally obsessed by this painting — even though it belonged to his brother. His brother wasn’t very interested in it for its artistic value and actually took it off its frame because he wanted the wood. The painting was rolled up and stored in his mother’s basement for years. Pat researched the painting style and thought he had found an unknown work by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, a painter from the late 1800’s. Pat had learned of Bouguereau from his visits to the Joslyn Art Museum (yes, the same Joslyns who supposedly gave his grandfather the painting). A painting called Return of Spring is notorious in Omaha because in the 1890 and again in 1976, it was damaged by people who were offended by its overtly sensual nudity. In fact, the chair which was used in the first attack was always kept by the painting which had been repaired and covered in glass to protect it.
Pat contacted the Joslyn Museum and the local universities to try to repair and authenticate his painting and was told it would cost quite a bit to have that done – and as much as I appreciate art – I really appreciate eating and having a place to live more – so the picture was put on hold. That didn’t stop Pat from having a dream of the painting being restored to its former glory and Pat being told that the painting was worth thousands of dollars!
Pat’s dream went on for many years until one momentous day when the Antique Road Show came to Omaha! Our sister-in-law managed to get a couple of tickets and Pat knew that this was his chance! He would get an expert to tell him the value of the painting for free! So he and his brother packed up the painting and a few other treasures and headed to the Show to stand in line for hours and hours with all of the other hopefuls in the area.
When it was finally their turn, they showed their ‘stuff’ to the experts. They started with the little stuff first – Grandma’s silver serving set turned out to be plated and wasn’t worth very much, my Bible with an inscription from the a gentleman during the Civil War was interesting but not of much value, my sister-in-law’s full collection of Jello cookbooks from the 1950’s weren’t as valuable as they could have been because they had been framed which had damaged the back covers.
And the painting? What about that beautiful Bouguereau painting – a lost work of one of the masters of his time? The expert looked right at Pat and his brother and declared that the painting was worth….. LESS!!! Yes — I said WORTHLESS!! The painting was probably done by one of Bouguereau’s students – one that wasn’t even very good!
Pat’s dreams were dashed, his hopes for a great masterpiece hanging in his house gone! And to make it worse — the Jello Cookbooks were actually worth more than the piece of art which had occupied his time for the last 30 years!