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Prolific Fine Art of Fort Plain, Antiques Collector Left a Legacy of Passion

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FORT PLAIN – The late Paul Verbitsky had a passion for collecting fine art and antique furniture through the centuries which he pursued throughout his 82 years. The precious collection he amassed filled his village house upon his death in August 2020.

Paintings, pottery, statues, decorative aluminum, decorative clocks, artistic lamps, French furniture and ornate chandeliers filled every room and closet in his home at 30 Lydius St. Verbitsky collected the items during of his life at regular auctions, flea markets, antique shops and city-wide sales.

The house itself is an antique, built by former Acting Governor George Clarke in the 18th century as a summer residence. A state historical marker can be found outside the house on which Verbitsky carried out restoration work.

Verbitsky was originally from New York where he worked in the construction industry as a painter and candle. The Clarke House in Fort Plain is adorned with detailed wallpaper accented by matching color baseboards and Verbitsky painted trim details.

Verbitsky admired all art mediums from the modern era to late masters dating back as far as the 16th century. His collection was both for his own enjoyment and an investment. Some parts were never to be separated, while others were traded or sold for a profit.

“He used his passion to achieve things in life by rehabilitating certain things. There were also things he didn’t want to give up, ”said Dotty O’Neil, who helps Appraisers Road Show’s Robert Meringolo auction much of the collection.

By all accounts, Verbitsky was a very private person who maintained a close circle of friends. The heir to the estate declined to speak to a reporter, but shared Verbitsky’s details via O’Neil.

While he reportedly collected “whatever caught his eye,” Meringolo said Verbitsky had a well-trained eye evidently cultivated by extensive research into art and antiques.

“Usually people who collect are very interesting people… There is a curiosity about them and I think that’s what he must have had, this curiosity for who painted this, when did he been painted, what is it, “Meringolo said. “His joy was to find things, to hunt and then to search. There are tons of books out there, he clearly liked the research part.

Personally, Meringolo loves Old Masters paintings, so he was immediately struck when he was called in to manage the estate and discovered five Old Masters among the collection of 800 paintings. Verbitsky bought the paintings from a church in Troy at a local auction for next to nothing.

Meringolo, who founded Appraisers Road Show and is a former partner of Sotheby’s, has assembled a team of leading art experts around the world that he consults to research pieces. While researching the masters of Verbitsky’s collection, Meringolo contacted Alexander Parish, who discovered a lost work by Da Vinci that was auctioned for $ 450 million.

The parish identified one of the paintings as a work by the 17th century Italian artist Luca Giordano. Due to the size of the estate, Verbitsky’s collection was divided into several sales. Giordano’s work sold earlier this year for $ 38,000.

Speaking to art dealers who have worked with Verbitsky in the past, Meringolo said the collector is known to have picked up other valuable treasures for a bargain during his lifetime.

These lucky scores are less and less common as the industry has shifted from local auctions hosted only in person with perhaps modest, advanced advertisements in trade magazines to online forums that reach collectors around the world.

“As soon as you post it there’s a buzz because the world knows it,” Meringolo said. “At one time, I used to go to rural auctions and get a purchase because the outside world didn’t know about it. It has changed because the outside world knows pretty much everything. “

In the past, Meringolo has said that savvy collectors like Verbitsky could sometimes acquire a coin worth thousands of dollars at a local auction for $ 1,000 or less. He knows it, because Meringolo did it himself.

“I just had to be the smartest guy in the room. It will never happen again, because of netizens, ”Meringolo said.

Yet global audiences can be an advantage for auctioneers when interest in a work published online makes them think of the value of an item they had not fully recognized.

Verbitsky’s prolific collection tucked away in his home in the small village in the north of the state is almost unknown, and changes in the world of art and antiques make it even less likely that it can be reproduced by anyone without sufficient resources.

“Most auctioneers in their entire careers won’t find a house with 800 paintings. It just doesn’t happen. Especially here in the Mohawk Valley, ”Meringolo said. “This area is just a pleasure to do.”

The volume and variety of the pieces have widespread appeal, according to Meringolo.

“There is something for everyone, someone on a budget who just sees something they love to someone who wants to find investment art. It’s all there, ”Meringolo said.

While Meringolo doesn’t want to be the auctioneer who lets go of a valuable piece for only a fraction of its value, he does recognize that this could happen with the Verbitsky collection in part due to the age of some of the works.

Traditional varnishes used as a topcoat on older paintings naturally deteriorate over time, altering the color of the artwork and sometimes obscuring the artists’ signatures until restoration is done.

Both novice and seasoned collectors will have the chance to become the next Verbitsky and bring back pieces from the collection at a real estate sale next week. Selling is exactly the kind of place Verbitsky frequented throughout his life while following his passion for art and antiques.

“It’s an opportunity for people to collect beautiful things and we would like them to come and share Paul Verbitsky’s passion,” Meringolo said.

The real estate sale will take place at 30 Lydius St. from October 7 to 10 each day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Contact Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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