Published: April 18, 2011
When the finest and freshest ingredients are tastefully combined, a scrumptious, and usually expensive, gourmet meal is most always the end result. Similarly, when the finest and freshest ingredients come together in the art/antiques world, sumptuous results are almost guaranteed. Such is the fairy tale case at Clarke Auction, where two paintings by Hudson River School master Jasper Cropsey surfaced at an appraisal day.
Fresh to the market and in absolutely wonderful original, grimy, filthy condition, the delicious paintings have a fairy tale story all of their own; in fact, they have several.
Fairy Tale 1:
The paintings were brought into an appraisal day conducted at the gallery by the Larchmont Historical Society. Taking a back seat, auction house proprietor Ronan Clarke watched with limited interest as five of the historical society’s appraisers looked over the items that came through the door.
“He came in near the end of the day,” stated Clarke, of the gentleman that brought the paintings into the gallery. “They were initially dismissed here, the appraiser looked them over and at first thought they might be chromolithographs. When he realized it was an oil, he thought it ‘looked like Germany.'”
Clarke, who had been admiring the paintings from afar, thought “they looked really nice” and immediately got involved. In regard to the German attribution, Clarke countered, “I don’t think so, not with Indians in there.”
Fairy Tale 2: Identifying ‘Autumn In America’
In the following days, the dark scene would be identified as Cropsey’s “Autumn in America,” a missing work from the artist’s first series of four-seasons paintings that he executed in 1860 while in England. The paintings were shipped back to New York to be sold by Cropsey’s agent. When they arrived in New York, the person that was going to buy the four decided he did not want them all and the agent broke the set up, selling them individually. “That was the last that was known about it,” stated Clarke Auction’s Nelia Moore, who conducted a great deal of the research.
The painting depicts a brooding Mount Washington in front of an overcast sky with a luminous horizontal opening in the clouds displaying a spectacular sunset. In the lower right side of the painting, under a stand of trees displaying yellow and red leaves, is a small group of deer emerging from a lake. Under a dominant blazing red leaved tree, depicted on the left side of the painting, is a small band of Indians crouched in the underbrush, bows at ready. It is signed on one of the boulders in the lower left foreground and is also pencil marked in Cropsey’s hand on the verso with the painting’s title, along with other illegible notations.
“The painting has been lost for the past 150 years,” deduced Moore from the research the gallery has done to date, much of which Clarke and his crew conducted in collaboration with the Newington Cropsey Foundation. The foundation, located in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., was founded for the purpose of preserving, maintaining and displaying the art, paintings and studio of Jasper Cropsey. It is located at Cropsey’s Nineteenth Century residence and studio that overlooks the Hudson River.
Fairy Tale 3: Identifying ‘Falls Of Niagara’
“Falls of Niagara” turned out to be an unknown painting by Cropsey that has now been added to his oeuvre: a rare winter scene depicting two hunters and a dog in front of the snow-covered falls region. “It is so different from what he does,” stated Moore, that the foundation was initially skeptical of the work, but upon examining the signature, their doubts disappeared and they frantically began doing research of their own.
Shortly thereafter, a small preliminary pencil sketch for the painting was discovered in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Virtually identical, the picture has color notations in Cropsey’s hand in the upper corner. “It is identical except for the hunters, which he would have added when the painting was done,” stated Moore. Excited about the finds, both paintings will be included in the Newington Cropsey Foundation’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné.
Fairy Tale 4:
From Whence They Came
The paintings have impeccable provenance, having hung in the local home where they were banished to the “rec room” in the basement and at the mercy of teenagers, their parties, ping-pong tables and dart boards. “They never thought anything of them,” stated Clark, “the consignor actually thought they were fakes.”
Offered $125 for the pair, the owner decided to keep them as they had been in the family for the past 100 years. Originally in the home of his parents, the father a piano maker at Steinway in West Hartford, Conn., and, later, the mother a seamstress in New York after the family relocated to the Westchester County area. The consensus is that the paintings, unwanted at the time by assumed aristocratic owners, were probably given to the mother as a token of appreciation for a job well done.
Regarding the condition in which they are being sold, “I feel it is better to let the end buyers have it as found,” he said. Once cleaned, the paintings will be nothing less that what the auctioneer termed “spectacular.”
Fairy Tale 5:
A Proper Ending
Well, that will unfold at Clarke Auction on May 15.
“I get up every day and hope to find something like this,” said Clarke, obviously lighter in his step these days in anticipation of the auction. Another joyful note for the auctioneer, Clarke and his wife are expecting an addition to his family in the next couple weeks, “a wee-one,” he said in his sharp Irish twang, of the soon-to-be-born lad or lass.
Clarke Auction is at 2372 Boston Post Road. For further information, 914-833-8336, or www.clarkeNY.com .
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm