Prolific Fort Plain fine art, antiques collector left legacy of passion

FORT PLAIN — The late Paul Verbitsky had a passion for collecting fine art and antique furniture from across the centuries that he pursued throughout his 82 years. The treasured collection he amassed filled his village home when he died in August 2020.

Paintings, pottery, statues, decorative aluminum, ornamental clocks, artistic lamps, French furniture and ornate chandeliers filled every room and closet of his home at 30 Lydius St. Verbitsky collected the objects over the course of his life on regular outings to auctions, flea markets, antique stores and town wide sales.

The house itself is an antique, built by former acting state Gov. George Clarke in the 18th century as a summer home. A state historical marker stands outside the home that Verbitsky performed restoration work on.

Verbitsky was originally from New York City where he worked in the construction industry as a painter and taper. The Clarke House in Fort Plain is adorned with detailed wallpaper set off by correspondingly colored baseboards and trim details painted by Verbitsky.

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

“He used his passion towards attaining things in life by rehoming some things. There were also things he didn’t want to give up,” said Dotty O’Neil, who is helping Robert Meringolo of Appraisers Road Show to auction off much of the collection.

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

While he reportedly collected “anything that caught his eye,” Meringolo indicated that Verbitsky had a well-trained eye obviously 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 about who painted this, when was it painted, what is it,” Meringolo said. “His joy in this was finding things, the hunt and then the research. There are tons of books, he clearly liked the research part of this.”

Personally, Meringolo has a love of paintings by old masters, so he was immediately struck when he was called in to handle the estate and discovered five old masters among the collection of 800 paintings. Verbitsky purchased the paintings that originated from a church in Troy at a local auction for practically nothing.

Meringolo, who founded Appraisers Road Show and is a former Sotheby’s associate, has assembled a team of leading art experts in the world who he consults with to research pieces. While researching the masters from Verbitsky’s collection, Meringolo contacted Alexander Parish, who famously discovered a lost Da Vinci work that sold at auction for $450 million.

Parish identified one of the paintings as a work by 17th century Italian artist Luca Giordano. Due to the size of the estate, Verbitsky’s collection has been broken up into multiple sales. The Giordano work sold earlier this year for $38,000.

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

Those lucky scores are becoming less common as the industry has shifted from local auctions hosted only in-person with perhaps some modest advanced advertisement in trade magazines to online forums that reach collectors from across the world.

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

In the past, Meringolo said knowledgeable collectors like Verbitsky could sometimes acquire a piece worth thousands of dollars from a local auction for $1,000 or less. He knows, because Meringolo has done it himself.

“I just had to be the smartest guy in the room. That will never happen again, because of people on the internet,” Meringolo said.

Yet, the global audience can be a benefit to auctioneers when the interest in a work posted online tips them off to the value of an object they had not fully recognized.

Verbitsky’s prolific collection tucked away in his home in the small upstate village is almost unheard of and changes in the art and antique world make it even less likely it could be replicated by anyone without ample resources.

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

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

“There is something for everybody, somebody with a low budget who just sees something they like to somebody who wants to find investment art. It’s all here,” Meringolo said.

While Meringolo does not want to be the auctioneer who lets a valuable piece go for just a fraction of its value, he acknowledges it could happen with the Verbitsky collection due in part to the age of some of the works.

Traditional varnishes used as a top coat on older paintings naturally deteriorate over time, altering the color of the work and sometimes obscuring artists’ signatures until restoration is performed.

Novice and well-seasoned collectors alike will have a chance to become the next Verbitsky and take home pieces from the collection during an estate sale next week. The sale is exactly the kind of venue Verbitsky frequented throughout his life while following his passion for art and antiques.

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

The auction will take place on Saturday Oct. 2 at 10 a.m., and also online, and an estate sale will be held at 30 Lydius St. on Oct. 9 & 10 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, with previews on Oct. 7 & 8.

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

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Prolific Fort Plain fine art, antiques collector left legacy of passion

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