Published: July 29, 2003
– A rare double-portrait attributed to William Matthew Prior depicting two children and their dog had folk art collectors from around the country talking-the-talk over the past couple weeks. The painting, offered by Thomaston Place Auction Galleries, sold this past Saturday, July 26, for a record price paid at auction of $341,000.
Consigned to the auction just six weeks ago, the rare painting had been discovered during a “free appraisal day” conducted by Thomaston’s auctioneer Kaja Veilleux. The auctioneer commented that he has been doing appraisal days from his gallery for the past 25 years.
The unsigned folk art painting was considered to be an iconic folk painting, probably executed in the early 1840s. “The painting had all the right elements,” commented Veilleux, “it had been recently discovered, had come directly from the family, the condition was unbelievable and one of the key things was that it is the only double portrait known.”
Bidding on the lot, estimated at $25/35,000, opened at $25,000 and several in the gallery got in on the early action; however, the nearly one dozen phone bidders soon took control and pushed the lot toward the $160,000 mark. Americana dealer David Wheatcroft, seated near the rear of the gallery, then jumped into the action and combined with two telephone bidders advanced the lot toward the $200,000 mark where competition narrowed to just Wheatcroft and a single phone bidder. The bids bounced back and forth between the two in $5,000 increments with the telephone bidder claiming the lot for a record price paid at auction of $341,000, including premium.
The phone bidder was Mitchell Keno, who was bidding for his brother, New York City Americana dealer Leigh Keno, who was at that very moment appraising a refinished Pennsylvania blanket chest in Chicago for the PBS television series Antiques Roadshow.
“It is the nicest Prior painting I have ever seen,” commented Leigh Keno after the auction. “Mitch and I went up to look at it a couple weeks ago and as soon as I saw the painting I fell in love with it. I just loved the two children’s faces, their clothing and the dog adds a whimsical element.” Keno also commented that he was impressed with the condition of the painting, stating that it looked like it had come “right out of an attic.”
The painting, of Alfred and Malinda Carr of East Boston, Mass., had been consigned by a member of the family and had full provenance, including the family Bible genealogy. Right before sale time, the consignor also parted with a daguerreotype and a CDV of the two sitters, which Veilleux threw in with the lot.
Another Prior painting, this one of a seated Maine sea captain with a “Porteresque” window scene in the upper left, was consigned to the gallery just a one week after the double portrait. It too showed up at Veilleux’s doorstep also having been brought into one of his free appraisal days. The painting soared past estimates, riding on the heels of the double portrait, selling to a local buyer for $44,000.
Another painting offered during the auction was an oil on canvas entitled “Army of The Potomac at Cumberland Landing on the Pamunky River, Va. 1862.” The painting had been done by James Hope, a Captain in the Vermont 2nd Infantry, and was painted in 1864 from a sketch he had done at the scene. Not amateurish in any sense, the well-executed oil opened for bidding at $25,000 with six phone bidders on the line. It eventually sold for $82,500.
A complete review of the auction will appear in a future issue.
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