Published: August 17, 2004
In many ways Thursday, August 5, was a typical auction day, like so many others in the 55-plus years of Dick Withington’s life as an auctioneer.
At 86 years young, Dick thought he had seen it all. He has sold everything from chinchillas to Dunlap highboys. But there was a buzz at the sale with a standing-room-only crowd and a feeling of excrdf_Descriptionent was in the air. Many were there to spend the usual fun day at an old-fashioned Withington country auction. The barn was warm and inviting with a few centuries of furniture and decorative accessories on display. Tables full of Flow Blue to carnival glass, tall clocks to Edison players – there is always something for everyone.
But the star of the day was a seemingly insignificant, 103/4 by 18 inch painting signed “W.L. Metcalf ’86.” Inscribed on the back was “La Maison de Claude Monet,” the subject, a cluster of unpretentious buildings in a field of red poppies. The timeworn canvas was slowly coming away from the early wood stretcher board … no frame. One could pass it by without a second glance, but there was something special about this painting.
All week there were dozens of inquiries from all over the country followed by cries of amazement, “No phone bids? No left bids? I’ve never heard of such a thing!” But it really did not matter. As Withington has proven time and time again, if you have the goods they will come.
During preview the little gem was studied by all the experts and most were confident this was an early Metcalf and quite a discovery. At 11 am, Withington offered the painting to the crowd with his usual light-hearted humor, “Who will start the bidding at $100?” he queried. With giggles in the background, one gent stepped forward and stated, “I’ll start the bidding at $100,000.” Quickly the bidding surpassed $200,000 mark with several active bidders.
The final hammer price was $313,500, including the ten percent buyer’s premium. The buyer represented a New York gallery and was reportedly prepared to pay “whatever was necessary to buy the painting.”
The Metcalf appeared unexpectedly while picking up dolls for auction in Massachusetts, Withington recounted. “The consignor asked us to take a few other things, including some silver, and assorted smalls, and, ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘you might as well take this old painting, too.’ Won’t she be surprised.”
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