Painting Immergrun: The Art Collections of Charles M. Schwab

When you walk through the Met or the National Gallery, you might notice a number of names affixing painting labels quite frequently: Mellon, Morgan, Frick and Vanderbilt. One you don’t see as often is Charles M. Schwab. Yet one can only imagine that the 75-room French Chateau on Riverside Drive in Manhattan was filled with art. Almost as impressive, and still existing, is Schwab’s 990-acre, 18-building Immergrun estate at Loretto, Pa.

Among the reasons we don’t see Schwab’s name often in museums is not he didn’t like or collect art. A reason could be that he had a different philosophy of spreading wealth than Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie aimed to give it away before he died, and Schwab aimed to spend it before he died). Schwab died bankrupt, having departed with many of his most important paintings. (While I can’t verify the ones I know about are the “most important,” by their caliber I can probably assume as much.)

One such painting is “Rockets and Blue Lights” by J.M.W. Turner. Schwab paid $250,000 for it in 1917. The art dealer Duveen paid $129,000 for it seven years previous. The painting is now at The Clark in Williamstown, Ma. The museum website says it was acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark in 1932. Schwab died in 1939, so I am guessing he sold it to them.

The second painting I have found a newspaper reference for is Rembrandt’s “The Accountant,” also known as “St. Luke” being sold by Schwab to the Holland Museum. A New York Times article indicated the reporter reached Schwab at his Loretto, Pa estate, but Schwab declined to comment. The painting was in the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition at the Metropolitan in 1913.

Certainly, there must have been many more paintings. A diagram of Schwab’s Riverside Drive Mansion shows a gallery filled floor to ceiling with paintings. A 1904 article about the construction of Riverside mentions more than 100 artisans engaged in building and finishing it. One artist, Jose Villegas, completed a painting entitled “Prosperity in America.” The article also mentions two gigantic bronze statues by Gerome, symbolizing metallurgic and scientific engineering.

Other references to Schwab and his art include his commissioning of Chartran to paint portraits of Admiral Dewey and his wife. The work of Paul Manship could be seen at the Loretto estate in urns embellished with an Indian carrying game from the hunt; a centaur holding his bow poised to shoot; an old man riding a donkey, and a cow scratching its nose with its hoof.

Much of Schwab’s collections likely made it into museums around the country and throughout the world, but also likely passed through one or more private owners first. There is one place where you can see Schwab’s name associated with items he owned, at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, adjacent to his former Loretto estate, where some Tiffany lamps are held.

Schwab’s wife had died in the Riverside estate, and so he no longer desired to live there and also shuttered Immergrun. “Now I have no home,” he would be quoted as saying, and in the same breath felt compelled to “start life anew” in a Park Avenue apartment. Schwab himself said the site could be adapted well to an apartment house. And eight years later Riverside would be razed for an apartment building. According to a 1947 article, it took two months to remove the wood paneling, chandeliers, organ and stained glass windows before demolition could begin.

“No one wants to live in it,” Schwab had said. Today some 2,000 apartments crowd the site.

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