Local Man 'Finds' Valuable, Ignored Painting That Adorned Mass. School's Walls for Decades

The painting hung on the wall of an elementary school auditorium for decades, barely noticed by generations of students, teachers and parents.

Then a local man intrigued by the work at the Community School did a little research and found it is worth hundreds of thousands — perhaps even millions — of dollars.

Now the town is wrangling over what to do with the 7-by-10 foot masterpiece by Russian artist Alexandre Iacovleff, entitled "Afghans," The Sun Chronicle reports.

Click here to see a picture of "Afghans" and read The Sun Chronicle story Web site.

Sell it? Or keep it?

North Attleborough School Superintendent Richard Smith suggested selling the piece, which depicts Afghan tribesmen and their horses resting on a hillside. He said some of the proceeds should be used to set up a college scholarship fund for local students who major in the arts.

But Gregory Smith, the grandson of the man who donated the painting to the town, says not so fast.

"This is a reflection of a kind of gold-rush mentality in my family's opinion," he told the school committee on Monday night, according to The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro. "The rush to attempt to sell this thing is extremely shortsighted. I think it would be in the best interest of this board to postpone a decision until we can get our arms around this thing and come up with a best course of action."

The school committee has appointed a subcommittee to discuss the painting's future. A decision could come at the board's March meeting. The school committee and the town's selectmen would both have to approve a deal before the painting is sold.

Smith said the painting should not have been removed from the school, but school committee Chairman David Manoogian said the work had to be safeguarded and insured.

The painting, appraised at $600,000 to $800,000 by Sotheby's of New York, is now in the hands of Sotheby's, which has agreed to store and insure the artwork until the town decides what to do with it. Another Iacovleff painting recently sold for $2 million at auction.

Smith's grandparents, William Charles and Edith Whiting Thompson, donated the painting to the town around 1950.

Smith said his grandfather worked for the Vose Gallery in Boston. Thompson, the nephew of Robert Vose, knew Iacovleff personally and oversaw the sale of his paintings after his death in 1938.

"His widow was pleased to know the painting hung in a public place," Smith said. "My grandfather chose that location specifically and after receiving approval, hung it there himself with the help of a friend."

The committee also thanked Richard Paynton, the man who brought the painting's value to the town's attention.

"It was kind of shocking because this was a level of painting you wouldn't typically find except in a major gallery or private collection," Paynton said.