Arts in the Media: A Houseful of Alfred Juergens’ Art

Did you see the Chicago Tribune's Sunday headlines, “Amid the Clutter—Art”? Stories on art, usually relegated to the back pages, never make it to the front pages unless there is some compelling human interest story. When the Cook County public guardian's office sorted through the “mountains of trash, junk mail, and newspapers” in the La Grange Park house of Margaret Tikalsky, now in a care home, they discovered a large collection of art by the American impressionist Alfred Juergens.

Apparently, Tikalsky's father befriended Juergens and, in the 1920s, collected the artist's works including 85 watercolors, sketches, and oils on canvas and wood. Alfred Juergens (1866-1934) was born in Chicago and trained at the Chicago Academy of Design and later in Europe. Known for his religious genre, florals, and landscapes, he was particularly interested in mural paintings. He gained fame as an impressionist painter and spent most of his career in Oak Park, showed regularly at the Art Institute, and was considered to be part of the “first generation of local artists to paint the city.”

This story sounds like an Antiques Roadshow kind of scenario where an elderly woman brings in a painting she's had for years in the attic. “What did you pay for it?” asks the appraiser. “It was actually given to my father by the artist in the 1920s,” replies the woman. “Do you have any idea of the value of this painting?” asks the appraiser. “I have absolutely no idea,” she says. “Well, at last auction, a similar painting sold for …” (some astronomical sum). “I can't believe it,” she gasps. “Thank you so much.”

According to askart.com, Juergens' Children Playing in the Garden (1904, 24.30” x 30.20”, mixed media on paper) sold for $10,000 in 2006. How much are the Juergens' paintings found in the piles of trash worth? A lot.

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