A decades-long search comes to a happy conclusion
HIGHLANDS – As unsolved mysteries go, it was hardly primetime material. Yet to the folks at the Twin Lights Museum, the whereabouts of Granville Perkins’s iconic painting of the Navesink Light Station had been at the very top of the list for a long, long time. This summer, after 140 years in private hands, the stunning watercolor finally found its way home—and will be on display to the public at the museum in time for the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge, October 15 and 16.
“We knew the Perkins painting last went up for auction in New York about 20 years ago,” says Mark Stewart, head of the Twin Lights Historical Society’s Collections Committee. “We suspected that it ended up in a home in this area, and sure enough, that’s where we found it.”
Or rather, that’s where the painting “found” the Twin Lights.
“Out of the blue, we were contacted by the owner, a longtime area resident who had recently moved north,” explains Margaret Carlsen, curator of the Twin Lights Museum. “He planned to sell the painting, but felt that it should be part of our permanent collection. His price was fair and we raised the funds very quickly from member donations to purchase the work.” Perkins was commissioned to paint the “Twin Lights of Neversink” by the publisher D. Appleton & Co. of New York for the 1872 book Picturesque America.
Appleton’s engravers used the painting to create a plate for the book, which featured dramatic views of the United States. Over the years, antique dealers have pulled individual prints from Picturesque America and sold them individually. Many area homes have framed prints of the Twin Lights from the book—some black and white, some hand-colored.
“Because Perkins knew his work would be reproduced in a black-and-white engraving, he employed much more contrast than would have been typical in a watercolor of this period,” says Mary Jo Kenny, president of the Twin Lights Historical Society. “It’s truly stunning. We are all so used to seeing the print, you get a chill when you actually encounter the real thing .As far as we know, this is the first time the painting has ever been exhibited to the public.”
The unveiling of the Granville Perkins acquisition (members already are calling it “our Mona Lisa”) coincides with the reopening of the Museum Store, which has been completely redesigned by a team of master carpenters with a grant from the state.
“People will come to see the Perkins, but the Museum Store has just as much of a Wow! factor,” adds Kenny. “What a great job they did. The transformation is just sensational.”