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The John Pence Collection of Academic Realists & Abstract Art

Turner Auctions + Appraisals is pleased to present The John Pence Collection of Academic Realists & Abstract Art. John Pence, founder and owner of the largest art gallery in San Francisco and one of the premier academic realist galleries in the U.S., recently retired from his eponymous firm after 44 years in business. The online auction features artworks from Mr. Pence’s personal collection, supplemented with works from his gallery. The focus of Mr. Pence’s own assemblage and his gallery is on academic realists, abstract works, and significant works from the 19th and early 20th centuries that inspired them. The Pence Collection will be offered for sale in two parts: the first on October 22 and the second in early 2018.

Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, John Pence attended Wabash College for men, where he graduated with a degree in Political Science and Economics. His career as a gallerist, however, was several decades and jobs away. After college, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he served as a Navy officer for nine years. His last assignment before leaving the Navy was as a White House Military Aide to President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, serving in this eminent position for over two years.

Leaving the Navy, Mr. Pence worked for TWA (Trans World Airlines) in New York for over six years as a negotiator for fares and rates. Interacting frequently with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association of the world’s airlines hired him as a commissioner, based in their Executive Offices in Geneva, Switzerland. Living in Geneva and visiting Paris and London regularly, he began to visit art galleries extensively, getting to know the owners.

As Mr. Pence traveled around the world and his interest in art grew, he began to buy various works. Then, when friends and acquaintances admired his art and his eye, he began selling on the side. In the early 1970s, he moved to San Francisco and decided to open his own gallery, seeking to fill it with works from artists who were local and from New York.

The John Pence Gallery opened in 1974. Throughout this career, his focus has been on artists starting out, supporting their efforts and showcasing their work as a patron, mentor, friend and admirer. His approach has been more Medici than mercenary:  supporting a stable of artists (40 most recently) with whom he never even signed a contract. Concentrating on the artist, not the work, Mr. Pence believes the artist should be in charge:  he looked for people who were easy to work with, determined, hard workers, and would grow with their art. He has enjoyed encouraging both male and female artists, often buying their works, not just selling them, thereby becoming a stakeholder in their success. As a result, when his business flourished, Mr. Pence received hundreds of applications for gallery representation every year, although he could only work with a handful.  
The distinguished list of artists John Pence has nurtured and represented through the years is most impressive. Artists in the two Pence auctions include Douglas Fenn Wilson, Michael Bengt, Will Wilson, Dorothy Morgan, Robert Maione, Randall Lake, Dean Larson, Jacob Collins, Michael Lynch, and Donald Jurney among others. His support, commitment and fundraising have extended to other areas as well, including AIDS, gay rights, women politicians, and the Junior League of San Francisco.

Earlier this year, John Pence decided it was finally time to retire, which at age 81, “seemed natural,” he says. While he contemplated this several years ago, his artists wanted one last show. Now, with his gallery’s final exhibit behind him, he held a retirement party recently for friends, clients and artists; the festivities were attended by his many appreciative fans, including guests who traveled from Paris, New York, and Italy. Now, after working six and seven days a week for decades, Mr. Pence can relax a bit. His only upcoming commitment? Posing for art classes for a friend. 

Looking back on his esteemed career as a gallerist and patron, Mr. Pence says he has enjoyed the camaraderie, friendship and mentorship he was able to give people – superb artists. When he looks around, he knows why he had such a wonderful 40+ years in his business:  people are treasures. John Pence says it best in a recent Facebook post:  “…Yes, it is true that I will be retiring at the end of June. After 44 years in San Francisco, wonderful years representing some of the finest painters and sculptors in the U.S. Our mission was to find worthy artists, expose their work to the public, and work with them to get their careers started off on the right track. I believe we have met those goals...”

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