Have you ever wondered … who is this guy that sends me these newsletters every month? If so, please take a look at the June issue of Art & Antiques. They did an article on the ‘Next Generation’ of art dealers and I was one of the featured dealers. Yes, this is my 15 minutes of fame! Now on to the main course!
Since I touched on this in last month’s newsletter, I thought that this would be an interesting topic to explore a little further. The word ‘expert’ is used by many people in the art world – “Is he an expert?”, “Who is the expert?”, “Did you show it to the expert?”, “I am an expert”.
The real question is -- What is an expert? To me, an expert is someone who has studied, in depth, the area they specialize in, seen thousands of works by the different artists who worked during the period, and will acknowledge the fact that they are still learning. I am always happy to inform people that while I am considered an expert in 19th century European paintings and, to even narrow that down a bit further, the world’s expert on Daniel Ridgway Knight and Julien Dupre, I am always discovering new bits of information on both Knight & Dupre and I am always learning about ‘new’ 19th century artists.
I use the word ‘new’ because while the 19th century is not ‘new’ and all of the artist’s have gone to the ‘great beyond’, there were so many of them that one cannot know them all. More importantly, since quality works by many rarely appear on the market one just does not take notice. A case in point – this past month we acquired a spectacular work by the French Academic artist Antoine Edouard Joseph Moulinet (1833 – 1891). While Moulinet is/was a known artist and an exhibitor at the Paris Salon during his lifetime, I had never paid much attention to the few minor works that had appeared on the market in the past. It was not until this particular work was made available that I took notice. Then the fun began – scouring through our library to find biographical information on the artist, looking through our runs of Salon catalogues to find images of other works that he exhibited and searching through the reviews of the Salon for any mention of the artist and his work. While I was able to gather some interesting information about the artist, I will, for the balance of my career, be on the lookout for additional biographical information on Moulinet.
As a so-called ‘expert’ in 19th century European art, and this should be the case with anyone else you deal with, I have the ability to look at a work by a currently ‘little known’ artist and make the determination as to whether or not the work has merit – in my opinion of course. I can look at the quality, subject matter and period in which it was painted and will know if it fits in with what was happening during that period. I will know if the artist was working during the height of the period or if he was someone who came later. I can determine if the work has the quality and impact one would expect from an established artist of the period. And, most importantly, is the work something we would feel proud to own, display and even more importantly, recommend? In the case of this work by Moulinet, the answers were yes.
Another question we are often asked is -- How does one become an expert? The answer is very simple – by looking. You need to look at tens of thousands of works by the artists from the period and, when it come to the artist/artists you like, you need to study their work in depth. I do not want to imply that one needs to do extensive, independent, biographical research on the artist/artists, but one needs to look at their work, study their paintings, and have a basic understanding of the period in which they lived and worked. You need to train your eyes to see the changes that took place in the artist’s style, subject matter and quality, throughout their career and try and find those works the artist dated so you can begin to determine when these changes occurred. Only then can you begin to consider yourself an expert. You will also find that a true ‘expert’ will have the ability to date, to within a few years, when an undated work was executed, just by looking at it.
While many of you will never become ‘experts’ in the area/areas you collect, you will be amazed to find, once you have seen hundreds of works by your favorite artist/artists, that when a ‘fake’ appears you will, at the very least, know that something is wrong. Remember, that most of you are going to rely on someone’s ‘expertise’ to guide you and advise you … if you choose wisely, you will be well rewarded!
The following was taken from a story in the April issue of the Maine Antique Digest titled The “Canyon Suite”: Fodder for a $5 Million Bonfire? and will illustrate that when there are too many so-called ‘experts’ things can go wrong, and how an honest dealer makes good!
The story begins in 1987 when Emilio Caballero of Amarillo, TX found a package containing a group of  paintings his friend Ted Reid, a friend of [Georgia] O’Keeffe’s, had given him 12 years earlier. Caballero gave the works to his daughter-in-law to sell; she in turn gave them to a dealer who specializes in Native American arts, who sold them to Santa Fe dealer Gerald Peters.
Peters showed the works to Juan Hamilton, who was O’Keeffe’s manager and companion during the last years of her life. Hamilton gave his verbal authentication and Peters paid the owner $1 million for the newly dubbed “Canyon Suite” in 1988. At least two other experts gave the watercolors thumbs-up between 1988 and 1993. However there was another expert, Doris Bry, who at the time was not on the ‘short list’ of people to show O’Keeffe works to if you valued your friendship with Juan Hamilton. Ms. Bry was O’Keeffe’s former assistant and New York agent and was forced out of her job by Mr. Hamilton. Bry had her doubts about the works and was working on her own O’Keeffe catalogue raisonne at the time. Since all who had seen the works were giving their thumbs-up, Peters did not see a problem and they were finally sold in 1993 to Mr. R. Crosby Kemper, Jr. for $5 million.
Now let’s fast-forward to 1999. After learning that the works were not included in Barbara Buhler Lynes’s catalogue raisonne (the current O’Keeffe expert and curator of The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum), billionaire art collector R. Crosby Kemper, Jr. met with a delegation of four National Gallery of Art experts in Kansas City, Missouri on December 16. When the conference was over, all agreed that the 28 watercolors attributed to Georgia O’Keeffe, which Kemper had bought for $5 million in 1993, were fakes.
The meeting with experts in December 1999 dashed any hopes that Kemper and his curatorial staff had about their authenticity. [It was determined that] the paper used for several of the 28 watercolors was wrong; [not the] types of paper that Georgia O’Keeffe … used during her long artistic career. One painting was on handmade paper produced after 1950, and another was on textured Strathmore paper from the 1930’s, and a few others were on Fabriano paper possibly made as late as the 1970’s.
Most [of the experts] … dated the “Canyon Suite,” if authentic, as 1916-18. The paintings were unknown until a year after O’Keeffe’s death in 1986. Was Kemper out his $5 million? No! Like any honest and reputable dealer Mr. Peters “quickly refunded Kemper’s money and even kicked in with an authentic O’Keeffe oil painting for the Kemper Museum”.
A Follow-up to Last Month’s Story
I had a very nice conversation with Mr. D. before I sent out last month’s newsletter and he gave some additional information that you may find of interest. First, he is looking at this as an expensive lesson – one he vows never to repeat. Second, I was surprised to learn that since Mr. D. lost his case, he was responsible for paying both his and the ‘other sides’ legal fees! Would you like to venture a guess as to how much it cost him? … over $1 million. So in the end, the painting he bought for £1.5 million cost him close to $4 million. An expensive lesson at the very least!!
I also asked him if he was going to attempt to recover something from Mr. S.C.? At the time of our conversation he was unsure, but did inform me that he has received a number of unsolicited calls from attorneys looking to take the case – boy does news travel fast!
Howard L. Rehs
Gallery Updates: We will be exhibiting at the Lake Forest Academy Antiques Show from June 13-16. If you are in the area, we invite you to stop in for a visit. Great works by Ridgway Knight, Aston Knight, Cortes, Blanchard, Swatland, and others will be on display.
We have acquired many new and exciting works during the past month … a number of which have been added to our site. Among them are important works by Antoine Edouard Moulinet, Louis Aston Knight, Antoine Blanchard, Edouard Cortes and Paul Emile Lecomte.
The gallery will now be handling the paintings of Heidi Coutu (b.1957). Please take a look at the site to see the first of many new works.
Virtual Exhibitions: This month we have added two works to – Rehs Galleries: A Visual History… The first is Arthur Wardle’s 1915 Royal Academy painting - The Deer-Stealer. A powerful example of the artist’s exotic animal theme and a work the gallery sold back in 1984. The second is an important work by the French realist artist Auguste Bonheur entitledPlowing in the Nivernais. This work was painted during the height of the French Realist movement and captures the power and strength of Bonheur’s work. The gallery sold this painting in 1997.
A number of new ‘sold’ works have been added to various Virtual Exhibitions – these include Eugene H. Cauchois, Edouard Cortes, Antoine Blanchard and Sally Swatland.
Next Month: I will attempt to give you a summary of my series on what ones needs to look for when purchasing a work of art.