An important Jasper Cropsey oil on paper on canvas painting discovered by auctioneer Robert Foster in the top of a local barn, unframed and discarded many years ago amidst a pile of frames, created quite a stir as it was offered at Foster’s Auction Gallery on September 1. The well attended two-day auction, consisting of more than 1,200 lots, is always amongst the most popular sales of the year for the auction house.
Attracting national attention, the Cropsey oil had presumably been cut from its original stretcher and relegated to the junk heap. “This is exactly the way we found it,” stated Foster as he gingerly held the piece, temporarily mounted against a piece of cardboard. Dirty and with some delicate areas in need of attention, Foster recalled that the painting was found in the upper level of a barn “not 30 miles from here.”
“There were boxes and furniture stacked up high on top of it and against it,” stated Foster of the discovery. “It was totally unprotected and hadn’t seen the light of day for the past 50 years,” he said.
When the Cropsey was pulled from the rubble, Foster recalled that he “couldn’t read the signature. At first I thought it was a print of a painting that had been stuck on a piece of canvas. But after I dusted it off, and recognized the signature&•
After some consultation, it was decided by Foster not to have the piece cleaned or restored in any manner, that it would be simply dusted off to the point that the image could be seen and sold as found.
The Cropsey depicted a scene of Naples with a large palm tree on the right and small central figure on an outcropping high above the city taking in the scenic view.
As soon as the ads broke, the phone started ringing off of the hook with calls coming in from a host of major dealers and collectors, according to the auctioneer. Everyone wanted to be on the telephone to bid on the lot, however, Foster’s doesn’t allow phone bidding. With substantial interest expressed, Foster finally relented. “For the first time in 30 years I allowed phone bidding,” he said, sounding somewhat bittersweet.
With nine landline and cell phones set up around the gallery, Foster opened the lot at $10,000 and “all nine people handling the phone bidding raised their hands immediately. Moving in $10,000 increments, the lot bounced back and forth between several of the phones and one by one competition narrowed until a final phone bidder remained. Everyone in the gallery, including Foster, thought the action was over, until the hand of a patient bidder seated in the gallery was raised in the air. Bidding progressed further with the buyer in the gallery claiming the lot at $143,000.
The consignor, “an elderly gentleman” according to Foster, “was not here for the sale and hadn’t heard about the painting. I had to sit him down and then I got the list out and started giving him some of the prices. The first prices I gave him were for three pieces of art that we had sold from his home,” recalled the auctioneer. “The first one, a print by William Haskell, sold for $10, and I didn’t get much of a reaction out of him. Then I told him about the John Constable painting that sold for $1,000 and he seemed pretty pleased with that. Then I told him about the $143,000 Cropsey,” stated Foster with a chuckle.
Another lot to exceed expectations was a brass saluting cannon that had originally been used on a late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Century merchants ship. Bidding on the lot was quick paced with it selling at $10,725.
A cased Colt Model 1849 five-shot pocket revolver in 31 caliber was bid by numerous people in the gallery with it selling at $4,400. A pair of German Naval binoculars by Zeiss, inscribed “The Barr Brothers from The Little Vagrants, November, 1933,” also did well hammering down at $2,035.
Furniture included a Chippendale cherry graduated four-drawer chest with bracket base that was in “as found” condition. The attractive chest sold for $3,685. A large step back cupboard with blind lower doors, and a pie-shelf under eight-light doors was in the old paint and it sold for $1,540, while a nice Chippendale tall case clock brought $2,200. An estate fresh slant front desk went out very reasonably at $825.
A set of Penobscot Indian war clubs that had been discovered under the eaves of a local attic caused some commotion. “They were the nicest ones we have ever seen, “stated Foster, attributing their remarkable preservation to many years of storage in the attic. Bidding on the lot was fast paced with a buyer in the gallery claiming the pair at $3,850.
A Swiss music box attributed to Paillard with 13-inch cylinders and six bells was one of three examples offered. The lot hammered down at $2,530.
A folky cow weathervane, thought to have been made by Cushing, sold at $9,350; a small ship’s portrait brought $2,200; and a room-size Bidjar realized $6,600. A blown cranberry decanter with gold and enamel decoration was sold with a group of 11 stemware glasses for $2,255, and a 1799 silver dollar brought $2,310.
All prices include the ten percent buyer’s premium charged. For information contact Fosters, 207-563-8110 or www.fosterauctions.com .