Two of Delaware’s most celebrated native sons are connected by one painting. In 2010, Edward Loper Sr.’s “Alapocas Run” was exhibited at Number One Observatory Circle, home to Joe Biden when he was serving as vice president. Now, it’s back in Delaware—and for sale at Stuart Kingston Galleries in Greenville. Proprietor Edward Stein and curator Pat McGrath are hoping to find the perfect new home for the 1999 painting.
A longtime Loper aficionado, McGrath notes that the artist is getting hot nationally thanks to the long-overdue focus on Black artists. At a recent New York auction, a Loper painting sold for $13,750, more than double the price his work fetched only a few years ago.
Born in 1916, Loper started his career on the streets of Wilmington, setting up his easel to work en plein air. He became part of the Works Progress Administration, created by President Franklin Roosevelt to employ millions of Americans—including artists—during the Great Depression. Loper then went on to study at the Barnes Foundation, which later acquired several of his paintings. He also had exhibits in Delaware museums and private galleries.
Though Loper’s work now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution, national acclaim eluded him during his lifetime. Despite having an art dealer in New York City, he never had a major show. “If that had happened, it would’ve changed the trajectory of his career,” McGrath says.
Such recognition didn’t come until a least a decade ago. “Even then, it was slow in happening,” say McGrath. “Loper’s works were sold at major auction houses, but they didn’t command the prices they should for the quality of the work.”
SKG has other Loper pieces for sale, including a few easily recognizable Delaware landscapes. And there are hundreds of his paintings in private collections. “The best work doesn’t come up for sale because people keep it,” Stein says. “They love it, know its value and hold on to it.”
McGrath has his own Loper piece at home. “Under A Blue Moon, October 31, 1944” depicts Loper’s Wilmington neighborhood. Full of rich, dark colors and an almost tangible sense of foreboding, it was the first painting Loper completed after his first wife died during childbirth. McGrath likens it to Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” It could go for a lot of money. “But I won’t be selling it,” McGrath says.