Thomas Edison State University has decided to sell its N.C. Wyeth painting “Reception to Washington on April 21, 1789, at Trenton On His Way To New York to Assume the Duties of the Presidency Of the United States.”
The 17-foot-tall by 12-foot-wide oil-on-canvas mural by the famed American illustrator and painter was commissioned in 1930 by First Mechanics National Bank.
N.C. Wyeth (1882 to 1945) is one of America’s most famous artists and illustrators, creating more than 3,000 paintings and murals and more than 100 books. He is also the father of famed American artist Andrew Wyeth and grandfather to another noted painter, Jamie Wyeth.
The Brandywine, Pennsylvania, based artist visited Trenton and did research at the Trenton Free Public Library, which owns a portion of the ceremonial arch through which Washington passed and which is depicted in the mural.
The dates seen on the image — Dec. 26, 1776, and Jan. 2, 1777 — commemorate Washington’s victories over British forces in the two Battles of Trenton. The events turned the tide in favor of the Americans in their struggle for independence from England.
The mural with a distinct Trenton theme survived several bank changes and established itself as a familiar and beloved downtown attraction.
The last bank company to use the building was Wells Fargo. When it sold the building and moved in 2013, it was unable to accommodate the mural and its future in Trenton became uncertain.
In 2013 officials representing Wells Fargo and the State of New Jersey, along with other community members, found a location for it at Thomas Edison State University, where the work was on loan and had remained on view on West State Street.
In November, 2019, Wells Forgo transferred ownership of the painting. Its appraised value of $4 million made the painting the gift of largest financial value in the university’s history.
“As a financial institution with more than 200 years of history in the state of New Jersey, we understand how important it is to maintain our historical treasures,” said Wells Fargo Region Bank President and Thomas Edison State University Board Member Carlos Arroyo during a presentation celebrating the 2019 transfer of ownership. “We’re thrilled that this heirloom was able to find its home here at TESU, an institution that is doing outstanding work right here in the heart of the state capitol.”
TESU President Merodie A. Hancock added that “N.C. Wyeth’s ‘Reception to Washington’ is an important part of Trenton history, and we have been honored to display it in our foyer for several years. We are extremely happy to receive this beautiful and historic painting from Wells Fargo and look forward to showcasing it even more in the future.”
The painting is part of TESU’s collection portfolio that includes the George Bradshaw Collection, 65 etchings by the nationally known artist and longtime teacher of the School of Industrial Arts, where TESU is now housed; a Thomas Edison Collection; and the W. Cary Edwards Collection, former New Jersey Attorney General.
A recent email from TESU’s communication office notes that “in consideration of tax implications, this gift was given to us by Wells Fargo Bank with the understanding that the university retains ownership for three years.”
The email also included the following statement from President Hancock:
“Stewardship of N.C. Wyeth’s painting has been an honor and a privilege for Thomas Edison State University. The oil on canvas mural is a historical treasure, commissioned in 1930 and gifted to the University in 2019 by Wells Fargo Bank.
“While this was the most unique gift in the history of our university, gifts to the University are ultimately meant to further our mission to educate and empower working adults. It is our great hope that this painting will find a new home where it can be more widely viewed and enjoyed while at the same time help us further progress the TESU mission. We have received the Thomas Edison State University Board of Trustees’ approval to sell the painting and are exploring the regulations and options regarding its sale. We are preparing to announce an exciting new initiative for the City of Trenton very soon, which will be supported by a portion of the painting sale proceeds. In the meantime, we remain committed to applying non-traditional learning to empower lives, build careers and advance professions.”
TESU also recently announced that “The John S. Watson Institute of Public Policy and several of its functions have relocated to Kean University. Thomas Edison State University is very proud of its role in establishing the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy 25 years ago and in providing support for all of its partnerships and projects throughout its history.”