SARASOTA, FL – The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota made a stunning announcement and surprise unveiling during their 50th anniversary cocktail party this afternoon: Jon Corbino’s “Palette,” which had been part of the Society’s art collection on display at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, and which was stolen in 1991, had been found and returned to the organization.
The circus-themed, 17.5-by-27-inch painting was acquired by the Fine Arts Society in 1972. It is painted on an artist’s wooden palette and dates to the early 1960s, when it was created for Eva Lee, a gallery owner in Great Neck, New York. It found its way to Mrs. William Flook, of Sarasota, who presented it to the Fine Arts Society in March 1972 in memory of her late husband.
News of the heist made many local headlines when the painting went missing from the Van Wezel the last weekend of November 1991. The piece was most likely taken while the Gatlin Brothers, George Burns, or the Sarasota Choral Society performed. At the time, Michael Corbino, Jon’s son, said because the painting was so unusual, he believed whoever stole it would have a hard time selling or displaying it without attracting attention. He went on to say, “The art world is really quite small. I have a feeling this is going to show up sooner or later.” Art critic Joan Altabe is quoted as saying, “They took the best work in the place. Whoever took it was someone who knew quality.”
Corbino had been a leading painter in the 1930s and ‘40s. In 1938, Life magazine dubbed Corbino a modern-day Rubens. In 1945, his paintings were featured on the covers of three art magazines. Museums and galleries that possess Corbino works include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Chicago Art Institute, Whitney Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and the Carnegie Institute. Corbino moved to Sarasota in 1957, where he lived until his sudden death in 1964 at the age of 59.
Eric Bowyer also knows quality. On a typical weekend of engaging in his favorite hobby of treasure hunting at rummage sales, Bowyer discovered the piece at an estate sale in the Palm Aire subdivision of Sarasota. He recognized the artist’s name and purchased the painting for $25. Asking if the seller knew anything about the piece, Bowyer was told by the homeowner’s son that, years ago, a man had asked his mother to store some paintings at her house – and the man never came back for them. Researching the painting led Bowyer to Jon Corbino’s daughter, Lee Corbino of Lee Corbino Galleries, who informed him the painting had been stolen from the Fine Arts Society’s collection in 1991. Bower then got in touch with the organization and presented them with the piece of art.
Vern Livingston Weitz, president of the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, stated, “It was an amazing surprise having this very special, long-lost painting returned to the Fine Arts Society. In preparing to celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, we delved into the archives and found a trove of interesting details about our history, including the saga of this striking Corbino. We are so very grateful to Eric Bowyer for returning this important painting to us. ‘Palette’ will be rehung in a prominent place within our art collection, joining more than 50 of our artworks currently displayed at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.”
Fine Arts Society Art Collection Tours
Though “Palettte” is not yet back on display, there are many other impressive pieces in the Fine Arts Society’s permanent collection. Free, docent-led art tours are being offered during the 50th anniversary celebration, at 10:00 a.m. on March 5, April 2, and May 7, at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. To learn more, visit fineartsrq.com.
The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, founded in 1969, is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. It provides cultural and educational opportunities for its members and the Sarasota community through activities; supports local visual and performing arts programs and individuals through grants and scholarship programs; and maintains and exhibits a permanent collection of works by accomplished artists associated with Florida and Sarasota. To learn more, visit fineartsrq.com.