Q. Which painting would you rather have over your mantel, Jules Breton's The Last Gleanings, left, or Rembrandt's 1658 Self-Portrait?
A. Apparently this wasn't such a no-brainer a hundred years ago. Breton was once a hot item with American collectors. In 1895 Henry Clay Frick paid $14,000 for The Last Gleanings, making it the most expensive painting the budding connoisseur had ever purchased. But in 1907 Frick turned it in to Knoedler and Co. for a $25,000 credit toward the Rembrandt, now one of the most famous prizes of Frick's Fifth Avenue house-museum.
Not so well-known is the fact that the Breton — at one point, the crown jewel of the Frick collection! — ended up in Southern California. Henry Huntington bought it. It was an early purchase for him, too, before he decided to focus on British portraiture. As the late Barbizon school went out of style, The Last Gleanings was consigned to the wall of a lecture hall. It was restored to public display when the Huntington mansion reopened in 2008. Now, for six months, the Huntington is lending the Breton to Frick's other museum, the Frick Art and Historical Center in Pittsburgh. This was the site of Frick's first mansion, before he decided it was healthier to decamp to New York (spot of bother with the labor unions…). The Breton will hang where it did from 1895 through 1903, over the mantel of Frick's Pittsburgh dining room.