Published: May 17, 2011
What a short, strange trip it has been for the consignors of two recently discovered Jasper Cropsey paintings that sold at Clarke Auction Gallery this past Sunday afternoon, May 15. In a bizarre chain of events, they removed the paintings from the walls of their deceased mother’s basement rec room; they turned down a $125 offer for the pair; they heard from an appraiser that the paintings may actually be chromolithographs and of no value; they had auctioneer Ronan Clarke step in and authenticate them; they consigned the paintings to Clarke’s; and they sat in the auction gallery where the shell-shocked consignors watched their paintings sell for $822,000, collectively.
“I’m stunned, overwhelmed actually,” said one of the consignors. “My hands are still shaking,” said another immediately after the paintings had sold.
The consignors, who asked to remain anonymous, grew up with the two paintings that were often placed in harm’s way as decorations on the walls of a basement recreation room. The room housed a dart board and ping pong table and hosted the teenagers’ tournaments and gatherings.
“We grew up with them as kids and asked ‘Why do we have these?'” The paintings were out of sorts with other items in the house and were looked upon with an unappreciative eye.
Believed to have been given to their mother, who took seamstress work from Fifth and Park Avenue families during the 1920s, the paintings had remained in the family until her recent passing. When cleaning out the home, the consignors passed on a $125 offer from someone helping clean out the house and they were eventually brought to a benefit appraisal clinic conducted by the Larchmont Historical Society at Clarke Auction Gallery.
Initially dismissed by the society’s appraiser as “chromolithographs or European paintings with little value,” auction house proprietor Ronan Clarke spied the works from a distance and moved in closer to take a second look. Clarke told the paintings’ owners that he did not believe them to be European †”I don’t think so, not with Indians in there,” he thunderously declared.
Clarke had the paintings taken to the Newington Cropsey Foundation, a museum/ study center housed at the site of Jasper Cropsey’s Hastings-on-Hudson studio/home, where they were authenticated.
“Prospect Point, Niagara Falls in Winter” initially posed some questions by the experts at the foundation as the painting was not listed in Cropsey’s records, although the artist’s small preliminary pencil sketch for the painting was soon discovered in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The foundation authenticated the work and has added it to the artist’s listed oeuvre; it will also be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné.
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, was much easier to identify. The discovery of the painting was equally pleasing, though. Separated by Cropsey’s agent when the paintings were shipped back to New York, the whereabouts of the “Autumn” painting had been a mystery. It, too, has been added to the artist’s catalogue raisonné.
It was a fairy tale come true for the consignors. Seven telephone bidders were ready for action as Clarke offered “Prospect Point, Niagara Falls in Winter.” Estimated at $40/60,000, Clarke announced an opening bid of $50,000 and wanted $55,000. It came immediately from the rear corner of the room, where new Jersey art dealer Dean Borghi was seated; $60,000 came from the opposite side of the room where a private Connecticut collector stood in the doorway and the bids rapidly bounced back and forth between the two. At $100,000, Clarke increased the increments to $10,000 jumps; that also came without hesitation. At $200,000, a new bidder jumped into the fray, yet he was soon outdone by the original two. Bids bounced back and forth like tennis ball at a US Open match, quick and with backspin in the form of knowing glances. At $300,000 Clarke was still rolling strong, at $400,000 too. A bid of $440,000 came from the collector in the doorway, a pause came from Borghi. Just as it appeared ready to hammer down, the New Jersey dealer hit the lot at $450,000, only to be immediately countered at $460,000 by the collector, where it hammered down for $540,500, including premium.
The same scenario played out for “Autumn in America” and despite the seven active phone lines, every single bid came from the three players in the house. Once again Clarke opened the lot at $50,000, once again Borghi hit it at $55,000. The bidder standing in the rear of the was quicker this time and hit it at $60,000. Bids bounced between the two until the Connecticut collector got into the action after the lot crossed the $100,000 mark. It was Borghi’s turn, however, as he claimed the lot at $282,000, including premium.
“I bought it for stock,” stated Borghi immediately after the paintings hammered down. As the two successful bidders chatted with the consignors in the auction gallery’s parking lot after the sale, the sticker-shocked consignors were heard to say more than once, “I had no idea&•
“They are really good pictures and it is nice to see fresh things like this come up,” stated the collector with a smile.
Auctioneer Ronan Clarke was all smiles †and not just because of the solid prices established for the paintings; he is also the proud father of a newly born son. Clarke Auction is at 2372 Boston Post Road. For general information, www.clarkeNY.com or 914-833-8336.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm