I touched on this in last month’s newsletter --- while typically a catalogue raisonné project is taken on by one ‘expert’, there are instances where different experts, working on their own, have decided to write opposing books on the same artist … when this happens, trouble is on the horizon.
Most scholars are known for their particular expertise and other scholars do not want to tread on their turf. However, there are instances where two opposing individuals decide to hold themselves out as the expert on a particular artist and each campaigns to have their decisions taken as the gospel!
This situation is currently happening with the works of the 20th century master Modigliani --- two different groups are claiming to be the ultimate expert and there are a number of paintings that they disagree on. While this wouldn’t be ‘so’ bad if we were talking about works that sold for a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars, here we are talking about works that sell for millions of dollars. Today, certain works that were once considered autograph paintings by the artist have been called into question … and that can hurt – not only one’s pride, but their pocketbook!
What happens when one ‘expert’ states that the work is correct and another ‘expert’ states that it is not? You are in trouble! Now your painting will fall in what I like to call the ‘Gray Area’ and you are going to have a great deal of trouble selling the work.
You may ask why does this happen, why is there more than one ‘expert’? And that is a very good question. The first answer is probably ego; one ‘expert’ feels that they know more about a particular artist than the other and they want to prove it! But an even better one is money! Yes, there is a considerable amount of money to be made as many experts charge for their opinion … and some of their fees can be staggering. Did you know that in order to get a work authenticated by the Bouguereau committee (yes, this one has a committee), it is going to cost you $1,500; a photo-certificate for a work by Corot, it is going set you back about $4,000! And there are other artists whose authentication will cost you in excess of $100,000!!! … hummm, I wouldn’t mind doing 6 or 7 of those each year J!!!
Now you may say, I will never pay that kind of money for authentication … well, in the case of many artists – Corot & Modigliani being great examples – without a photo-certificate from the recognized ‘expert’, you cannot sell your painting. So in the end, if you want to sell, you are going to have to pay.
In years past, for an artist like Bouguereau, there was never much discussion … either the work was right, or it was wrong … and this decision was based not only on quality and provenance, but the opinion of the then ‘expert’. A number of years ago the ‘expert’ passed away and all of his material was ‘acquired’ by a group so that they could compile it for a catalogue raisonné. Well, now it has been revealed that Bouguereau actually had a studio set up so that his reductions (smaller works created after a much larger piece) could be painted by other artists under his supervision --- don’t be shocked, this has been going on throughout the history of art … it even continues today. These works were overseen by the master who would fix any areas he was unhappy with and then sign and sell them. Today, these works which may have been sold as autograph works by the artist only a few short years ago, are being reassessed and values are dropping. Here is an example: back in 1997 a small work by ‘Bouguereau’ titled La Grande Soeur came up at auction in New York where it sold for $100,000 – the painting featured two figures and the provenance went back to Goupil in 1877 (the year they acquired the work directly from Bouguereau). In 2003 the painting once again appeared at auction in New York, only this time it was fully catalogued as a painting by Gustave Doyen (one of Bouguereau’s assistants) … it sold for just $60,000 … a $40,000 loss on the work of an artist whose value continued to increase over that 5 year span.
Here is another interesting example of what can happen with a work of art that needs a certificate of authentication in order to make it saleable --- a number of years ago we had an important work by De Chirico that an individual wanted to sell. The painting had been in an important sale in Italy (circa 1960) and was featured on the front cover of the catalogue. After receiving the painting we had the appropriate photographs taken and sent them to a couple of ‘experts’ on the artist … at that time they were located in New York City. Interested in the work, they came to see it and wanted to buy it … but their offer was very low and the collector did not want to accept it. I am sure you can guess what happened next, since the offer was not accepted, and it turned out that one of them was involved with the De Chirico committee, we were never able to get the painting authenticated. Since that time, I do not know what happened with the work, but at that point it was ‘dead in the water’! What was even more disturbing was that the owner’s mother & father (the original purchasers of the work) knew De Chirico personally.
Please keep in mind that, while it would be great if there were, not every artist has an existing catalogue raisonné or is currently the subject of one. The fact is that most often, individuals need to rely on the ‘expertise’ of a dealer. What you should always try to do when buying, or for that matter selling, works of art, is consult dealers who are considered general ‘experts’ in the artist, or field, you are interested in. There is nothing better then dealing with individuals who have seen and handled dozens, if not hundreds, of works by those artists. These dealers will have thoroughly researched the paintings they are offering and if they are not among the chosen ‘experts’ should have already consulted the appropriate one/ones … leaving you with one crucial decision --- do you want to own the work in question?
Sally Swatland Update
As many of you know, Sally Swatland is a member of the Cape Cod Art Association. This month Sally entered her first work for possible inclusion in their show ... of the 200 works entered, only 91 were chosen for the exhibit; of those, three awards were given and Sally's painting titled Todd's Point received the 'Second Award'! Not bad for her first exhibition with the Association!!
The Cape Cod Art Association is located in Barnstable, MA and the exhibit runs through mid March.
Gallery Updates: Since our last update we have added works by a number of artists to our web site, including a wonderful Orientalist painting by Charles T. Frere, a rare ‘bird-shooting’ picture by George Armfield, a fine interior scene by Jean Paul Haag, and of course, exciting works by Édouard Cortès, Antoine Blanchard, Gregory Frank Harris, Sally Swatland, Barry Oretsky and John Kuhn.
I also want to give you another reminder that the gallery will be exhibiting at the Chicago Botanical Antiques Show from April 16th – 18th. If you are in the neighborhood, please stop by for a visit; we will have some exciting works on display.
Virtual Exhibitions: Over the past three months we have been adding new biographies and updating some of the old ones. Currently there are close to 120 individual artist bios and we will be adding more each month. If you are interested in seeing any of them, please click the ‘Online Inventory’ button on our web site, and then click the ‘Artist Listing’ option which will take you to a page with a listing of artists. Once you have reached this page, just click any ‘underlined’ name for the biography.
This month we have also added two new Virtual Exhibitions. The first features the interior scenes by the French genre artist Victor Marais-Milton and is titled Cardinals & Bishops. The exhibit includes a short biography on the artist and five high-resolution images of interesting and important works the gallery has recently sold.
Victor Marais-Milton - Cardinals & Bishops
The second exhibit features the Paris street scenes by Eugene Galien Laloue and is titled Paris a la Belle Époque. Again, this exhibit features a short biography on Galien Laloue and high-resolution images of six outstanding works the gallery has sold.
Eugene Galien Laloue - Paris a la Belle Époque
Since our last update we have sold a number of paintings by many of our favorite artists. Images of most of these works have been added to their respective Virtual Exhibitions; among them were: Auguste Bonheur’s misty morning Vaches a la Riviere, Berger et ses Moutons; Eugene Galien Laloue’s Le marche aux fleurs et la Conciergerie; one of the largest and most important works by Victor Marais-Milton to have ever appeared on the market: The New Chef; a number of paintings by Antoine Blanchard, including: Quai du Louvre, sous la Neige; Place de la Bastille (c.1958); Le Moulin Rouge, Place Blanche a Montmartre; Les Grands Boulevards, sous la Neige; and Rue Royale, Madeleine; Edouard Cortes’ wintry view of Place Pigalle and an extremely rare work of the Tuileries Garden; Felix Schlesinger’s Gathering Wild Flowers; Sally Swatland’s September Afternoon; and John Kuhn’s 4 Yellow Pears.
Next Month: I will discuss the problem of existing ‘old’ catalogue raisonnés! Yes, even though the work you own may be listed in a catalogue raisonné that was done many, many years ago, does not mean that today it is authentic! Come on, how can that be?