A valuable painting that was given to William Seward and has been on display in the Seward House Museum in Auburn for many years will be put up for sale.

Citing its recently discovered high value and the need for greater security, officials decided to removed the painting, "Portage Falls on The Genesee" by Thomas Cole, from the museum on Thursday. It is now stored in an unspecified secure location, said Anthony Franceschelli, president of the Emerson Foundation, which owns the artwork.

In a letter dated Thursday, Seward House members were notified by the foundation and museum of the decision to sell the painting.

The letter explains that the home was left to the Emerson Foundation in the early 1950s by William H. Seward III, the former secretary of state's grandson. In 2008, the foundation transferred the home, property and contents to the Seward House Museum to comply with new state regulations related to museums. But one item retained by the foundation was the Cole painting. 

As part of the asset transfer process, new information found that the painting was "much more valuable than we imagined," Franceschelli said.

He declined to say how much the painting might be worth. In 2009, another Cole painting, "View in Kaaterskill Clove," was sold by the Christie's auction house for $1,022,500.

Because of the Seward House painting's potential worth and the need for greater security, the foundation and museum decided to remove it from the museum and agreed to sell it through a public auction or a private sale.

Officials said they will attempt to sell it to another museum that's equipped to handle and display valuable artwork, but it could also be sold to a private dealer depending upon the offers. There is no set timetable for when a sale may occur.

Proceeds from the sale of the painting will be split between the Emerson Foundation and Seward House Museum, according to Franceschelli and Seward House Museum President Dan Fisher. In the letter to museum members, officials said the decision to take down the painting and put it up for sale required "serious and thoughtful" consideration. They said proceeds from the painting's sale will help advance the museum's mission.

"This sale will provide for the preservation of the Seward House Museum through support of its day-to-day operations and will contribute to its long term financial viability and independence, enabling it to grow and achieve a higher level of awareness on the national level, thereby continuing to tell the Seward story into the future," the letter said.

Fisher praised the Emerson Foundation for its support of the museum.

"You couldn't have a better benefactor," he said.

Franceschelli said the Emerson Foundation feels it's a "moral obligation" to support the museum.

"We feel that the Seward House is an important piece of history and we want to maintain that for generations to come," he said.

The foundation and the museum have commissioned a reproduction of the painting. Franceschelli said the reproduction should be finished and on display in the Seward House Museum by the summer.

According to the University of Rochester Memorial Art Gallery's "Seeing America" catalog, the original Cole painting was given to Seward when he was governor of New York. The painting captures Hornby Lodge, Portage Falls and the Genesee River at what is now known as Letchworth State Park in western New York. 

Cole, who is known for his paintings of the Catskills, died in 1848. A national historic site consisting of his home and studio is located in Catskill, N.Y.

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding

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