The Buchanan Collection of American Art for Heritage Auction

Over the course of 30 years, one of the most public and distinguished figures in Indianapolis, the Honorable Paul H. Buchanan Jr. (1918-2008), quietly assembled a truly outstanding private collection of 19th and early 20th-century American painting. This momentous collection will form the centerpiece of Heritage Auction Galleries’ June 10-13, 2009 American Art Signature® Auction.

Buchanan is most famous as the judge who, in 1986, threw out a case brought by several parents to keep Ryan White – a young boy diagnosed with AIDS – out of school.

william-lester-stevensWith the same thoughtful deliberation he devoted to writing more than 2,000 opinions during his tenure on the Indiana Court of Appeals from 1971 to 1993, Judge Buchanan selected fine examples of still-life, landscape and genre painting for a collection he enjoyed every day in his Indianapolis residence.

Works by landmark figures in the canon of American art – including Martin Johnson Heade, George Inness, William Bradford, Severin Roesen, Louis Comfort Tiffany, William McGregor Paxton, William Trost Richards, and John Frederick Peto – were displayed, salon-style, in the airy front hall of his home.

“I have a low resistance to beauty,” Judge Buchanan confessed during his lifetime. “I do my morning calisthenics on the balcony overlooking all that beauty. My paintings are better than bonds stuck in a safety deposit box somewhere!”

While he worked with major dealers, Buchanan relied largely upon his own judgment rather than upon art advisors in forming his collection. The fruits of that keen eye, erudition and passion for quality are more than evident in this amazing collection.

“Buchanan’s taste in art ran to the beautiful aspects of nature,” said Marianne Berardi, Senior Fine Arts Expert at Heritage, “and human nature – rather than to the grotesque or haunting or emotionally unsettling. This focus can be seen in his fully realized middle-period Hudson River School landscape of the Catskills by George Inness, Near Leeds, depicting a view looking east towards the Hudson, just discernable in the distance.”

Buchanan never exhibited his collection as a whole in his lifetime. To provide a historical record of the Buchanan Collection, Heritage will mount two preview exhibitions – one in Dallas and one in Indianapolis – prior to the auction, and produce a single-owner catalog with full entries on each work and an extended essay on the collector.

Born in 1918 into a family that arrived in Indiana in the 1820s, Paul Buchanan went into law rather than the family funeral business (Flanner & Buchanan, one of the oldest family businesses in continuous operation in Indiana). In 1955, he became a founding partner of what is today Bose McKinney & Evans, one of the largest law firms based in Indianapolis. He was in private practice for 23 years before being elected appellate judge in 1971, the only Republican to have been elected to a statewide office that year. Of the 22 years he sat on the Indiana Court of Appeals, Buchanan was its chief judge for nine.

On the bench, Buchanan railed against graft in the courts, although his most famous case involved Ryan White, a Kokomo boy stricken with AIDS as the result of a blood transfusion. In 1986, Buchanan tossed out a case filed by several Kokomo parents attempting to keep White out of public school.

Deeply admired for the brevity, clarity and forcefulness of his writing, Judge Buchanan was the first appellate judge in the United States to write opinions in a standard format, with opinions divided into Case Summary, Statement of Facts, Legal Issues, and Decision. His concept was adopted across the nation and was one of the reasons he was credited with being elected chief judge of the court.

In a rare interview about his collection, Buchanan in 1983 revealed to a writer for Indianapolis Monthly magazine that the seed for his collection was planted when he was just out of college. “I had declined to go into the family funeral business, so I was on my own. It was 1940 and the job I had in New York City was shot out from under me like an old horse; I was broke. When I wasn’t in the bread line, I went into museums to get warm. I began to develop there an appreciation of the finer pieces so that I’d have a good measure of comparison when I began buying my own.”

As the Buchanan Collection amply demonstrates, Paul Buchanan became an astute judge in more ways than one.

For more information, to read detailed descriptions of each lot, and to download full-color, enlargeable images, go online to Art.

Image: WILLIAM LESTER STEVENS (American, 1888-1969)
Snow Scene with Train, 1920