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A Treasure in the Attic

Wonders never cease…as with an exotic and very old painting recently found in the attic of the Marland Grand Home. Listed in the inventory was a life-size oil portrait of a Spanish-type caballero cowboy, but no other information was included.  The painting was painted by an artist who emigrated from Naples, Italy, to New York City in the late 1800s.  The name in the lower left hand corner, D. Buongiorno, was clearly marked as was the date signed, 1905. The subject showed a cowboy man standing tall and confident with leather chaps, gun and holster, neck scarf and cigar in hand.

The Artist

Fortunately the great grandniece of the original artist, Janice Carapellucci from Brooklyn, New York, had put together several pages about her Uncle Donatus Buongiorno’s history and work on the internet. After being contacted by Marland’s Grand Home, Carapellucci sent a link to a period postcard of the subject, which matched the artwork precisely. Donatus Buongiorno was born in Solofra, Avellino Italy. He moved to Naples in the 1800s to attend the Academy of Fine Arts of Napoli, where he also taught in later years.  In 1892, he immigrated to New York and became a naturalized American citizen. There he worked as designer in a wallpaper factory and also painted murals for Catholic churches and portraits. Buongiorno took on several important commissions, one being of President William McKinley. His work was at one time accepted to the prestigious annual exhibit of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

The Actor

The painting’s subject, William Faversham, was an enormously popular theater actor on Broadway in the early 1900s. He was born in 1868 in England, being theatrically trained in London. He held over seventy starring roles such as Julius Creaser, Othello, and Hamlet.  The term “Matinée Idol” was coined after Faversham, as his matinee performances were numerous and very popular. The actor was one of the first to both act in and manage his own career.  According to the Herald Tribune it was said he produced more plays in his day than any other producer/director in the United States with the exception of George M. Cohen. Faversham produced, directed, and starred in the production of “The Squaw Man,” a Broadway play in 1904. The painting shows Faversham clothed in his western costume for the starring role. The long-running play, 222 performances between 1905 and 1906, was immensely successful and was eventually made into a movie by Cecil B. DeMille.

Law Suit

The painting was involved in an unusual law-suit in 1908 in New York, Buongiorno vs. Faversham.  The actor chose not to pay for the portrait at time of its delivery saying he had not ordered it, so Buongiorno sued him for what was due. A 1908 story in the New York Times attempted to make Buongiorno look illegitimate and cast suspicion on the veracity of the commission. Another New York Times story published a month after the first, reported that Buongiorno won the settlement.  The court awarded the artist $29 for the painting, plus an undisclosed amount for court costs.

Mystery at the Museum

Though the New York Times story says Faversham rejected the painting initially, it’s suspected that he would have taken possession of it after he was ordered to pay for it. But, how did it come to reside in the attic of Marland’s Grand Home? Teddy Rahlf, custodian at Marland’s Grand Home, remembers the work hanging on the third floor stairwell about twenty years ago. Sometime after that it was taken down and stored in the attic.

There is no evidence that E.W. Marland, who built the house in 1916, owned the painting. In 1928, the Marlands had a big yard sale selling off smaller pieces that were inappropriate for their new 55-room palatial home, the Marland Estate. It most likely came into the hands of the City of Ponca City, possibly during the 1917 to 1967 period when the City Auditorium was housed at what is now the City Hall Commission Chamber.

“Plays were put on at the Civic Center auditorium through the years. Various art works hung at the auditorium, so the painting could have been at that location,” said Jayne Detten, Marland Mansion and Marland’s Grand Home Assistant Director. “When the City purchased the property 1967, the home was intended for use as Ponca City’s cultural center, so the painting could have been moved in from another location.”

If you have any information about the Buongiorno painting, please contact Jayne Detten at Marland’s Grand Home, 580-763-4580. More of Donatus Buongiorno’s work can be found at  Also see the web site at for more tour or special event rental information. Marland’s Grand Home, located at 1000 E. Grand Avenue, is open to the public, Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.