Does Anyone Want a Few Robert McCloskey Paintings?

The Make Way for Ducklings artist's early work once adorned the walls of an MIT building.

MIT Sloan photo via Wikimedia/Creative Common

McCloskey’s murals once hung in this building. / Photo via Wikimedia/Creative Common

Before Robert McCloskey became synonymous with a little group of ducklings that waddled around Boston, he was a struggling artist looking for work.

He studied at the now defunct Vesper George School of Art on St. Botolph Street in the 1930s, and relocated to New York after finishing. But McCloskey was called back to Boston around 1939 to work on a mural with artists Francis Scott Bradford and Marc Simont. Thank goodness he came back, else he might not have been inspired to write and illustrate Make Way for Ducklings, which was published in 1941.

A new report from the Boston Globe’s Curt Woodward details the story of the art that McCloskey helped to create. The mural, to be a series of six paintings, was commissioned to hang in the Kendall Square lobby of the Lever Brothers Co. The paintings stayed in the building on Memorial Drive for about 60 years until they were removed three years ago.

In the 1950s, MIT purchased the building—murals included—from the Lever Brothers Co. for its Sloan School of Management. MIT removed the works in 2013 after renovating the space. Evidently, the paintings didn’t fit in with the lobby’s sleek new look. The murals have been sitting in storage since.

Three of the murals in the  building's lobby. / Photo courtesy of MIT

Three of the murals in the building’s lobby before it was renovated. / Photo courtesy of MIT

A collections manager at the MIT Museum told the Globe that the university couldn’t find anyone to take the artworks. The school reached out to museums, government agencies, businesses, and even the artists’ relatives. Still no one.

Sure, the paintings aren’t priceless works of art, but they’re something. They depict mostly upper-class folks waltzing around the Esplanade and Beacon Hill—settings featured in Make Way for Ducklings, no less.

“The advice we got was that these were perfectly decent works, but not works of the first rank,” the MIT Museum’s director, John Durant, told the Globe.

The Lever Brothers originally paid $18,000 for the murals, but years of fading from the sun (and perhaps their recent history of undesirability) have probably decreased their value.

Any takers?