One of Paterson’s wealthiest residents unknowingly owned a Leonardo da Vinci painting. The discovery was made 40 years after it was sold and proved tragically ironic as selling the work at fair value could have saved the owner from financial ruin.
In the 19th century, Catholina Lambert, an English-born silkwoman, was one of the country’s foremost art collectors, on par with JP Morgan. Lambert believed that the Madonna and Child, was a painting by Da Vinci assistant Andrea Salai and sold for $1,950 in 1916. Four decades later it was recognized as Da Vinci and priced at over a million dollars, The Evening Star reported.
Lambert housed one of the finest collections of Gilded Age art at his home in Paterson, now known as Lambert’s Castle, whose two-part restoration reached halfway through the month last. While Lambert’s collection no longer exists under one roof – it was sold in 1916 – his newly renovated mansion is still a destination in its own right.
“It is one of the few intact examples of crenellated residential architecture in the country,” said Michael Hanrahan, director of Clarke Caron Hintz, which is responsible for the project.
By moving some of the administrative offices into the coach house, Hanrahan’s firm was able to increase the amount of gallery space inside the museum. The castle contains a collection curated by the Passaic County Historical Society which includes sculptures by Gaetano Federici of Paterson. The reasons, however, remain closed until renovations to the observation tower and coach house are complete.
During Lambert’s time, Paterson was nicknamed “Silk City” and “Lyons of America.” On his way to becoming the richest of all the local silk millionaires, Lambert was remembered as ruthless with an “exaggerated sense of his own accomplishments”, Dr Flavia Alaya, historian and author of Lambert’s biography ‘Silk and Sandstone’, told Jersey Digs.
“His castle on a hill is symptomatic of that,” Alaya said.
Despite his iron fist, Lambert had a certain notion of noblesse oblige and once told a journalist that he was opening his private gallery to the general public. “I don’t believe these photos should be hidden from people,” Lambert told the New York Daily Tribune in 1902. “I’m always ready to let anyone come to my house and enjoy my collection.”
Lambert, however, suffered a reversal of fortune and sold his works to make ends meet. It was a huge loss for the town of Paterson. “He had promised to bequeath the collection to Paterson,” Alaya said.
The catalog of the 1916 art auction still exists and reveals the inclusion of masterpieces such as The Enthroned Virgin by Bernard Luini, who is now at the Brooklyn Museum; Titian Marriage of Saint Catherine, who belongs to the British royal family; and Claude Monet View of Agentillecurrently at the National Gallery in London.
Paterson may have lost some of the world’s greatest works of art, but another collection of Gilded Age art still exists within the city’s borders. Jenny Tuttle Hobart, wife of former United States Vice President Garret Hobart, donated her 19th century American and European paintings to the Paterson Free Public Library.