In 1982, Nancy Reagan was having lunch with friends at a Georgetown bistro and an impressionist painting by an Old Town artist, hung in a gallery window next door, caught the First Lady’s eye. Mrs. Reagan dispatched an aide to inquire about the piece, then minutes later strolled into the gallery and bought two vibrant paintings of beach scenes for the private living quarters in The White House.
Thus, the art world legend of Ron Van Sweringen began.
But after a lifetime of painting and collecting artwork in his travels all over the world, Van Sweringen is selling his home here and moving to Florida. Nearly four floors of artwork from his Old Town home, 630 pieces in all, moves to the auction block next weekend at the Potomack Company on N. Fayette Street.
“I wanted an oil set when I was nine years old,” said Van Sweringen, an heir to the C&O Railroad fortune who grew up in Hampton, VA., “and I’ve been painting ever since.”
In addition to having been hung at The White House, in both Reagan and Bush administrations, Van Sweringen’s realist and representational-styled works have been included in exhibitions at the Corcoran Museum of Art and in various private local, national and international collections.
The April 28 auction features Van Sweringen’s extensive collection of paintings and decorative arts, valued at about $500,000, and also includes important turquoise jewelry, bronze statuary, clocks, tables, desks and other decorative arts. “I’m 70 years old and its just too much to be resposnible for,” said Van Sweringen, speaking from Vero Beach, FL. “I’m only holding on to things which have a sentimental value.”
Elizabeth Wainstein, the owner of Potomack Company, said her phones have been “ringing off the hook” since the auction was announced. “We’re getting calls from all over the U.S., as well as international interest,” said Wainstein, a former specialist at Christie’s in New York. “It’s unique to have a single-owner sale of this quality and quanity of artwork. It’s all stuff that’s been in a private collection for decades, so it’s fresh to the market.”