T.A. from Valencia sends me this tall case or long case clock, not technically a “grandfather” clock, because the term “grandfather” only entered parlance due to a popular song written by Henry Clay Work in 1875.
Songwriter Work checked into an English hotel, sat in the lobby, and asked why the old tall case clock wasn’t working. The receptionist said the clock stopped when the “old man” died. A popular song was formulating in Work’s mind; he wrote: “My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf, so it stood ninety years on the floor; it was taller by half than the old man himself, though it weighed not a penny more. It was bought on the morn of the day he was born, and was always his treasure and pride; but it stopped short – never to go again – when the old man died.” Thus, from 1875 onwards, the term “grandfather” has been applied to tall case clocks.
T.A.’s clock is unique, however, in that his has a large flat perforated disk mechanism affixed inside the workings within the case. We all know the sound of the Westminster chime, but T.A.’s clock plays a song, like a music box does, when the hour strikes. What it plays is delightfully morose; “Abide with Me,” a hymn reminding us that our hours are numbered: “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide. When others helpers fail and comforts fee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.” This melancholy grandfather clock reminds us every hour is one hour closer to “darkness.”
The poet of “Abide with Me,” the Scots Henry Francis Lyte, died from tuberculosis three weeks after he wrote these lines. Not something I want to remember every hour, but when this clock was built in the late 19th C. it was considered good taste to be religious, paranoid, and moralistic (regarding one’s social deportment). Remember those were the days when piano legs were covered in black ‘panties’ lest they excite the young men of the house.
That hymn was penned in 1847, a favorite of George V, Gandhi, the Captain of the Titanic, and Dr. Who. T.A.’s has a walnut carved case in the dense Renaissance Revival style with the decidedly sober German style called Alt Deutsch, adding to its gravitas. Invented by the Lenzkirch Clock Firm to play music on the hour, not every “Polyphon” (the technical name) played depressing music. Some played more uplifting tunes, accessed when the hour strikes on a coiled flat wire gong that accessed a cantilever off the front of the movement, pulling a string that released the governor of the music box. The music box, which is responsible for the dirge “Abide with Me” is a “double comb,” very similar to those disks which look like the original analog computer cards. One could insert a more hopeful and cheery disk to play a polka, a military march, or a mazurka.
The first tall case clock was invented in 1680 by British clockmaker William Clement. In a marvel of engineering Clement invented an escapement that allowed for a smaller more ergonomic swing of the pendulum; previous swings required 80-100° to provide the energy to strike and mechanism. After Clement, a swing of 4-6°was all that was needed to prime the workings. The advantage? A long pendulum and shallower swing meant less power, creating slower beats, and less wear on the workings of the clock, meaning long term accuracy of time- keeping.
If you could afford two weights (which were expensive), you wound the clock every 8-days. If all you could afford was one weight, you wound the clock every 30-hours. The only way your household knew the time in 1875 was by winding a clock. Today we have the time on the computer, the phone, our wrist, our cars; we can’t get away from knowing the time. Back 100 years ago, this was NOT the case; the ability to tell time was both expensive, honored in a fancy case, or was publicly displayed (a courthouse clock for example).
A.T.’s clock is worth $10,000 as these Polyphon are rare due to the many moveable parts that just up and died, just like the Grandfather who inspired the name “Grandfather Clock.”
D.L. is an amateur collector who has inherited a rococo artwork. Rococo is a flamboyant French style of the 18th century, a reaction against the grand classic style of the Palace of Versailles. Notice the swirling lines of the frame. This is an indication of architectural placement inside a whole room design. Whereas a rectangular frame "free mounts" in an interior, a frame this shape is designed within a molded wall. The rococo interior was a total design, usually light, swirling, extravagant, expensive and pastel. Interior design integral to individual rooms, from rugs to ceiling, wall treatment to upholstery, had its birth in the early 18th century.
Louis XV's mistress, Madame de Pompadour, was rococo's elegant fashion leader, shifting the cultured taste and society's leaders from the formality of Versailles to Paris, where she reigned over intimate salons held in pastel and costly rococo interiors. To be fashionable was everything. A little known fact is that the rococo era saw the emergence of the first fashion magazines.
A most desirable costume in the early 18th century was the Watteau gown, significant in D.L.'s art. Wide panniers, or sideways extending hoops, under the gown emphasized a corseted small waistline; the skirt opened at the front to show an embroidered petticoat. Tight sleeves to the elbow exploded in lace; a d?©colletage was required. The back of the Watteau gown had a distinctive cape that dropped from the back of the collar to sweep the floor. As the gowns were impossible to move backward, the fashionable ladies of the era were prisoners of their own guise of attraction. The gowns were restricting and highly structured yet featured lowly stripes and effects borrowed from simple peasant gowns.
The Watteau gown was named after the era's famous painter, Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), the author of the image of D.L.'s work. The titles of his paintings reflect the lighthearted yet lovelorn era: "Love in the Italian Theatre" and "Love in the French Theatre," and the title of D.L.'s image, "The Feast (or Festival) of Love," painted in 1718-19. D.L. has a print. Art historians credit Watteau with more fame now than he had in the 18th century, but Watteau influenced much more than the fine art world. More about why an 18th century image was reproduced in the early 20th century later.
Watteau was a sickly young artist, dying at the age of 36. He nonetheless established the genre of painting the frolics of aristocratic love in the open air. His paintings convey the fleeting quality of love, nature's seasons and time. Like the ethereal silk Watteau gown, often worn in his paintings, beauty has a light and impermanent touch.
Watteau's rococo influence did not die in the next wave of French Classicism in the late 18th century. Watteau has been revived three significant times in cultural history. First, by the inseparable brother-writers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt (last half of the 19th century), who wrote about all things fashionable in the 18th century in "Portraits intimes du XVIIIe Siecle." A second Watteau revival occurred in the first quarter of the 20th century, led by a group of Russian intellectuals, called "Mir iskusstva," or "World of Art," headed by Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballet Russes, with the artist Leon Bakst. The Russian group's interpretation of early 18th century French rococo revolted against the prevailing Russian realist style of painting. The lightness and curvilinear line beloved by Watteau found a new voice in Russia and spread back to France with significant gallery shows of graphic art and design in Paris.
European art, in the early 20th century, under the influence of 18th century French Revivalism in spirit, began a completely new synthesis in the art world, which is called Art Nouveau. Some art historians say Art Nouveau is the first new stylistic movement since the Medieval. Think of the bronze gates of the Paris Underground and you are seeing Art Nouveau.
By the time Art Nouveau reached artistic heights, America experienced the lesser of this aesthetic, a revival of French rococo style. Middle-class American women treasured little framed silhouettes of courtly ladies and courtiers. If D.L. remembers "Singing in the Rain," the movie features a 1927 "talkie" version of the craze for Marie Antoinette's love affairs, huge dresses and court style. The late 1920s was a hotbed of French style for the upper- and upper-middle-class home; the date of D.L.'s print is late 1920s. Although the tale is culturally rich, D.L. will not be: The print is worth $40.
S.F. from the 805 inherited a white marble bust entitled “Poesia” from her late mother-in-law, who inherited it from “her no-good father who ran off when [my mother-in-law] was a young child.” The story goes that the nogoodnic won it in a poker game in 1915-20.
Poesia means the act of creation; the bust has a perfect name. Although S.F. did not find a signature, it is in the style of Cesare Lapini, coming of age in late 19th C. Florence. Sculptors were taught by the famous Lorenzo Bartolini, Director of the Academy of Florence. The Academic Style was pure realism with a message, often moralistic (images from mythology of noble warriors, gods and fallen goddesses) or sentimental (featuring mother love, glories of peasant life, or faithful lovers). The Academic Style left little to the imagination and was prized for its readability and accessibility to anyone who had eyes.
Florentine sculptors, as the 19th C. closed, searched for seemingly impossible techniques, incredibly lifelike; for example the almost translucent depiction of our sculpture’s laurel leaf crown. Other such flourishes might be a lifelike rendering of a bunch of grapes (hard to make lifelike out of stone), or the most famous, the depiction of a gauzy veil of lace drawn over a beautiful face. These piece d ’resistances point directly to the end of the 19th C. as sculptors searched for novelty.
American artists flocked to learn at the Academy; in fact Horace Greenough became the Associate Professor of Sculpture from 1840-65, and joined in Florence’s American expatriates with James Fennimore Cooper and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Greenough is famous for his colossal heroic statue of George Washington currently at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. He wrote “The Travels, Observations, and Experiences of a Yankee Stonecutter” from his desk at the Academy di Belle Arte.
Another artist who called Florence his birthplace was John Singer Sargent, painting for the early 20th C civilized world when S.F.’s bust was sculpted. You can visit the Galleria dell’Accademia to see why I am so sure S.F.’s bust’s spiritual home is Florence. At the Plaza Donatello you will find the “English Cemetery,” the burial place of many distinguished American artists from 1828-78; here lies the famous Academic American sculptor Hiram Powers, as well as Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Americans purchased this style for well- appointed drawing rooms and for civic monuments, as many wealthy American visited Florence on their “Grand Tours.”
I believe S.F.’s bust is by Cesare Lapini, born in Florence in 1848, known for sculpting in the Classical style, but adding his own masterful flourishes of impossible-to-render features. His style is delicate and refined, working with a school of sculptors who perfected the human skin-like patina of the face and the breasts of many a sculpture featuring demure semi-naked nymphets. Another characteristic of late 19th C. Academic Sculpture is a charged undercurrent of sexuality. Take, for instance, Lapini’s full-body sculpture of a young woman, who has paused to sit on a tree stump, fascinated by a butterfly on her shoulder; Lapini chooses to portray her as she slips off her simple peasant’s robe down below one perky breast to gaze at the butterfly.
Works like this enabled this circle of sculptors to exhibit virtuoso techniques of carving marble: the simulation of the alabaster smoothness of a young body, or the sheer delicacy of a butterfly wing, not to mention the suggestion of a voyeuristic onlooker, both the artist and the art lover.
S.F., in the early 2000’s your bust would be worth $5000. Yours is worth $1500 today; devalued because I see a broken leaf in the crown. Not bad from a nogoodnic card shark who was paid with this elegant little marble.
B.T. brought in a lovely and valuable oil painting to our Santa Barbara office for my opinion of value. If it is everything I think it is (an original), our reader will be retiring in a large home in Bermuda.
The painting is a beautifully framed portrait of a woman in an 18th century-style dress, sitting by a stylized stream. She pours an urn of water. It has an aged patina of grime and has what we term bloom — evidence of moisture damage. Faintly, we see a signature in the middle bottom, "JN." The piece is classical in composition, meaning that it has a triangular structure. It is in the style of an allegory, an 18th century tradition of picturing noble people in the guise of mythological figures. The lady is recognizable, and not too stylized to be a portrait. She has a distinctive hairstyle and jewels. The title on the back reads "Portrait de femme de qualitä en Source." Is it a copy, a painting after "JN"? Or an original? We'll discuss the value differences of those three possibilities.
The technique is masterful — the brushstrokes under the old patina are firm and the palette is not muddy. This was done by an experienced painter or a group (studio) of fine artisans. In the 18th century, paints were not in a tube and mixing paints was by no means for the amateur. The piece has an underglaze consistent with the style of canvas preparation in the 18th century; in other words, it has been prepped for the oil surface area with a gesso layer, in a lightly tinted hue. The frame is in the 18th century style called rococo, very flamboyant, and the gilding is hand-rubbed gold.
Researching the provenance, which is to say its history, B.T. tells me that the piece was given to him in repayment of a favor from a friend who purchased it from one of Santa Barbara's elegant older hotels. B.T. said that there was an old gallery label that had disappeared from reverse that attributed the painting to a French artist, Jean-Marc Nattier. Is this painting in his style or is it a 19th century copy in the manner of Nattier? This difference will greatly influence its value.
In looking at old auction records for international sales of Nattier, I found that he often signed with his initials in the mid-bottom, not in the corner, as typically found. The hotel that decommissioned the oil had purchased such oils more than 20 years ago by sending out a team of buyers throughout the States. Further complicating issues, there are two famous Nattiers, the younger Jean, 1685-1766, and the elder Jean, 1686-1726, possibly brothers. The elder painted mythological portraits, and the younger painted mainly the aristocracy of France. The younger lists — which means there are auction records — for up to $500,000. The elder is still pricey at figures of around $57,000. However, the records indicate that both men painted less desirable works that sell for around $6,000. However, these less desirable pieces seem to be a person's portrait, and are done as a bust; ours is a full figure in a setting with a distance background.
Where to go next? B.T. is now in the process of writing two museums that have Nattier pieces hanging: the Guildhall in London and the Denver Art Museum. In this case, we must find curators who have seen many Nattiers to authenticate the oil. Note that when B.T. writes the museum, he must ask their opinion of authenticity alone, bringing his findings back to me to ascertain value. I advised B.T. to find a book, written in 1925 in Paris, about the work, called "Nattier: Painter of the Court of Louis XV," which seems to be the definitive text on the painter even today.
Good things are worth researching. B.T. may need to have the painting cleaned and restretched to make the signature and quality evident. Yet if it is a copy, it may not be worth it since B.T. will pay $800 to have the job done well. It makes a difference in value to ascertain the degree of distance "from the artist's hand," a classical phrase that indicates that the farther away from the artist's brush, the lesser the value.
If the artist is Nattier the Younger, say $500,000; if it's Nattier the Elder, $50,000; in the manner of, or the school of, or the studio of, $5,000; and if a good reproduction, $500.
J.F. sends me a photo of a 1950’s metal eggbeater which has a metal gear and two whisks, labeled on a rubber handle across the top of both sides “B-E-S-T.” This most common of objects has a very uncommon history. Like most objects we take for granted, the engineering of this little thing is a marvel. Old kitchen utensils, as we will see, are hot in the market now, mainly due to the nostalgia factor of many midlife foodies out there who remember their mom’s non-computerized cooking tools. This category of objects is fascinating to many a luddite collector.
An African American, Willis Johnson, who was born a slave in Cincinnati, OH in 1857, was the inventor of your eggbeater, filing its patent in 1884. By the time Johnson died in 1923, no other model of such a whisk had supplanted this in pure genius. Johnson’s design has never been improved upon and it has been a model for the commercial and household electrical beaters to this day.
Johnson was not the first African American inventor to receive a patent; that credit goes to Thomas L. Jennings in 1821, a tailor who invented dry cleaning, but Johnson was notable because historians believe he was illiterate. Furthermore, he invented this, as we see in the patent illustration illustrated, with the idea of dual action for dual whisks, which could be separated to act upon dual bowls. Johnson thought of two separate chambers as each capable of mixing two ingredients separately at once, such as eggs by one whisk and batter by the other, with one crank. Prior to this invention, anything mixed in a kitchen was done by hand, and any baker would have told you how much effort that took.
Johnson’s original patent boosted kitchen productivity because the two whisks were placed such that you could call the eggbeater a virtual mixing machine. If you ask Williams Sonoma for an eggbeater, you will be handed something that looks like J.F.’s picture and will cost you $30.
The U.S. patent website (always a great tool for antiques research) holds the text of Johnson’s drawings and the depiction of this machine’s utility: “Be it known that I, Willis Johnson…have invented certain new and useful improvements in egg beaters…wherewith egg batter and other similar ingredients used by bakers, confectioners, etc., can be beaten or mixed in the most intimate and expeditious manner.” I searched but found no photo of Mr. Johnson, nor did I find if he ever earned anything for his invention. Nor do I know how one can use this machine intimately, but I am willing to learn!
My grandfather was a big fan of eggbeaters, as he was an engineer and an inventor himself. Born in Leipzig at the turn of the century, and often hungry in youth, he was particular about his food, especially his scrambled eggs, which he made for himself every morning before heading into New York City for work. (He died in his mid-90’s, still at work.) In fact, scrambled eggs were the only dish he could cook, and he made one serving at a time. Two eggs at a time, because he used the Holt’s Improved Dover Patented Atlas Special Egg Beater, which screwed on to a three cup mason jar. We four grandkids would wait hours for breakfast on the weekends.
Some of the most collectible kitchen utensils, according to Kovel’s Price Guide are wire egg baskets, butcher blocks, wooden butter paddles, wooden butter prints (this is a press for punching a whimsical design into a newly churned butter pat), cabbage cutters (boards with razors in the middle), cherry pitters, butter churns, including the unique rocking chair butter churn, baby bathtubs, spice boxes and salt box wall mounts, and various types of brooms: cornhusk or cornstalks and horsehair. All notable for being so low-tech.
The most valuable kitchen utensils at auction today are Shaker made, from the late 18th and early 19th C. The Shaker aesthetic was pure and functional. You can purchase a wooden soap holder for $360, a pair of shaped panel feet (a Shaker sock dryer size 11) for $2583, or a maple New Lebanon, NY paid of steam-bent ash for $1500, or a large mangle iron, a beam of heavy iron with a twist handle for $1845. This last item was not Shaker made; the Believers sometimes bought from Worldly Manufacturers. Or you can buy a Sabbathday Lake, ME, grain box from 1830 for $1000. The value of J.F’s eggbeater? $50.
B.T. of Santa Barbara found a delightful etching on paper in her grandfather's storage garage. The scene features a lowly barn door with a stone archway. The door is made of simple plank boards, showing age and breaks in the ancient construction. Ivy drips down over the lintel. A feeding bowl rests atop some hay scattered on a stone pillar near the base of the doorway. At the center of it all is a young Cupid with bow and arrow, cocking his ear to the door, listening, and raising a little fist to knock. We see his white wings and his "weapon" behind his back. A young, smiling face peeps out from one of the breaks at the top of the door.
This is not an original work. It is a "multiple," or a print, but a print that was labor-intensive as each individual etching was hand-pressed. Etchings were the middle-class answer to desirable fine art on the parlor wall.
A signature at the bottom reads "J L Hamon," signed in the plate; this refers to Jean-Louis Hamon (1821-74). A signature in the original etching plate means that many were produced, and Hamon did not countersign B.T.'s piece with his own signature, as in the more valuable etchings.
Hamon first showed at the Paris Salon of 1848 and then made his mark at the London International Exhibition of 1851, where he received a medal. In Paris, at the Salon of 1852, a work was purchased by Napoleon III. Then, at the Paris International Exhibition of 1855, he won the ribbon of the Legion of Honor. He continued to show at international exhibitions in 1857, 1859, 1866, 1867 and his last Salon at 1873. A monument was erected at his death in 1874 in his hometown in Cotes-d'Armor, north of Brittany.
Hamon's work is typical of his era: mythologically based, romantic, set in nature in simple compositions, and full of young delicate women in love, in simple garb. B.T.'s image would have been easily read by art lovers of Hamon's era: Cupid is knocking at the door of a human heart. A barrier exists — a door — but the heart may open to let love (Cupid) in. The recipient of the mythological arrow yet to fly, behind the door, is locked inside. Love is waiting to be found inside and yet knocks first to break down the doors of confinement. Something wonderful may happen if Cupid's knock is answered. But the result is ambiguous. We can't see if the face behind the door is receptive to love. She's waiting ? or maybe love in the shape of a farmhand lover is already inside with her.
Images as allegories or metaphors were a common visual language in the mid-19th century, and every viewer would have understood the implicit sexuality in this image. B.T.'s little etching says this perfectly in 19th century terms, even if young modern B.T. has wondered about its meaning.
Our visual language in the 21st century is not symbolic. Perceiving in metaphor, with one's eyes, was a specifically late-19th-century way of seeing art, which always carried a hidden message or moral. In the English language, as early as the 15th century, the farmhouse act of rolling dough before baking was associated with lovemaking; the reference in this little farmyard scene of a "roll in the hay" would not have been lost on its late-19th century viewers. The dough metaphor would have further led viewers to the associated idiom "a bun in the oven." Such colloquialisms of the 19th century pair sexuality with the reference to the earthiness of a barnyard, a location in this composition intentionally chosen by the artist. Also not uncommon to the late Victorian era were hidden references to sexuality glossed over with acceptable naked baby Cupids and haymaking!
Although much of Hamon's work had the symbolic content of a dream, he is not classified as an early surrealist, nor is his work naturalistic enough to be classified as a Pre-Raphaelite. Hamon was a popular painter whose pieces were copied as parlor engravings, common before copyright laws in the late 1870s.
B.T., sentimental art of the third quarter of the 19th century with a "popular" following in its day is not valuable today. Considered too sweet and too pretty, its pedantic tone is directed toward a message. The lesson of the dilemma of "letting Cupid in" was met with a wry smile in 1860-70 but is considered cloying by most buyers today. The value at most is $150.
R.B. sends me a working kerosene lamp that is rustic and simple. It has a bracket for a wall-mount to the rear as well as a flat bottom for table mounting. The lamp clearly was moved around a home. The reflector (the metal part that curves around the chimney to reflect back the flame) has a hole, which supports the chimney. R.B. writes that perhaps the hole support indicated that the lamp was made for a train or a ship. It is 14 inches tall by 6 5/8 inches wide.
This is a kerosene lamp with reflector circa 1870 with a cylindrical reservoir behind a curved tin reflected (which is unpolished) with a clear glass chimney on a brass burner and tin font for the oil. The green paint seems to be original as it is a common color for 1870; however, I expected to see some evidence of rust coming through if it is old paint.
Indeed the lamp was conveyed – it is meant to be a wall sconce and hung on many different walls in many parts of a house. Occasionally you will find models like this with mirrored or polished reflector backs, and on others you will see two little attached dishes to hold (in one) unfired matches, and in the other, used matches. The whole lamp was a fire hazard, but it came long before the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or Underwriter’s Labs approbation.
R.B., your lamp was NOT made for a ship or a train; in fact, the folks who perhaps owned this lamp in 1870 never would have had the money for such luxuries as ocean or Pullman travel. The owners were common folk. Almost every modest house in rural American that had a working family inside would have had such a wall sconce from 1860-80. You’ll often find simple lamps housed in glass shadow boxes that have tabs for nails on their backs and tops, and almost all of them have holes cut into the housing for a chimney. A lamp much have air, and glass and kerosene being a luxury; a lamp was portable. You could not afford too many. These were often carried through the house in the evenings and mounted upon distant nails.
If the household was wealthier, you might find an Argand lamp, which boasted a fancier style of burner that housed a circular wick through which a current of air flowed; supplying more oxygen to a flame meant a more brilliant light. Because of the brightness of the light produced, Argand lamps were sometimes double lights and were accentuated with crystal prisms belowe the chimney to reflect all that pretty light.
If the household was even classier, you’d find an Astral lamp, whose name derives from the Greek word for star (astron), the most brilliant of the kerosene lamp family in the late 19th C. The Astral lamp was a tall table lamp with a central circular reservoir for oil that was connected to an Argand burner. Because of the intense light, the chimney of an Astral lamp was designed in satin glass with engravings of flowers.
If a wife needed to light the way home for a husband out late and wanted a lamp burning in the window, this called for a hurricane shade, with a chimney of height that protected the flame from drafts. These chimneys were engraved to refract the light.
Of all the kerosene lamps, the finest was one meant to impress your guests with soft glowing light. Today these large lamps are called Gone With The Wind lamps, but in 1880 there was no movie by that name: its 1880 name was the banquet lamp. The huge showy glass ball shade was white painted glass over a tall clear glass chimney over a similarly painted glass base, which held a fond of brass and central oil reservoir. To be fashionable, the glass shade matched the glass bottom, both thematically painted. Original banquet lamps that have matching tops and bottoms of painted glass are hard to find today due to breakage.
R.B., if your modest tin kerosene wall sconce was owned by your relatives, they could not have hoped for an Argand, Astral, Hurricane or Banquet lamp. Although all these lamps produced a flame fed on kerosene, your lamp was the most inexpensive, practical and humble, not meant for show, and not built for flashily maximizing the available flame. But it worked. Today your lamp is worth $100.
G.H. has a watercolor depicting young bunny-hill skiers standing in a circle in the snow. It is signed "Georgi." The work is simple yet shows ability in handling paint, as well as an artist's knowledge of light and shadow. A quick look was enough to convince G.H. to purchase this piece for $4 at a Santa Barbara thrift store.
G.H. has what I call a good eye — and a good instinct for research. She recognized the hand of an artist familiar with visual language, and she hopped on her computer to see if she could identify the signature. Signatures are difficult but necessary in researching an artist. Many artists, early on in their career, perfect a way of signing their paintings and they stick to that. Some use first and last names with dates, some just last names, some abbreviations and no dates. Some even change their style of signing throughout their career. The artist Edwin Georgi changed his style, and sometimes did not even sign.
G.H. sent me some signature samples derived from her web research that showed some similarity to the name on her piece. Since she saw some works by Georgi sell for more than $4,000, she called me to see if it was worth her time to research this further for her $4 investment.
I did a search on my powerful databases of fine artists and did not find a Georgi who painted in this style. Keep in mind I was looking at listed FINE artists. But this artist might have taken a break from a career as commercial illustrator to make this little piece. Illustrators traditionally are sold at other art marketplaces, although many have crossed the line from commercial artist into fine artist. A "listed" artist means we find the artist selling well and often at fine art auctions.
A look at illustration art auctions, however, showed Edwin Georgi was a well-known commercial artist of the mid-20th century who sells well in specialized illustration auctions held at places like Swann Auction Galleries and Illustration House. If you have a work of art that seems to be illustrative of a story, look at auction results for illustrations, not fine art.
G.H. was pretty sure she had a work by illustrator Georgi but needed further confirmation. I directed her to Minnesota-based Grapefruit Moon Gallery, which is devoted to illustration art.
Indeed, the gallery carried the work of Edwin Georgi (1896-1964), the perfect illustrator for women of the late 1940s and 1950s. He painted beautiful women with immaculate makeup and gorgeous clothing, always in flattering colors, always in idealized settings and poses. And his women are always clothed, as opposed to the pin-up artists of World War II. The moralism of the 1950s shows in his restraint.
Georgi captures the power of femininity and youth yet, at the same time, portrays the captive life of the female of the '50s. His women, although subtly sexualized, are powerful through a curve of the eyebrow or curl of a lip, almost noir- or pulp fiction like. Nevertheless, they are not in control. Georgi, who started as a writer after his service as a pilot in World War I and his education at Princeton, was a favorite illustrator for Cosmo, Esquire, Redbook, Ladies' Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post. Advertisers who catered to midcentury fashionable women hired him.
His works do, in fact, fetch up to $4,000 at an illustration auction. Other great illustrators who sell well at such auctions are Gil Elvgren, Alberto Vargas, Earl Moran, Rolf Armstrong and Henry Clive. G.H.'s painting looks more like an illustration for a Christmas card or a children's book — no beautiful women there. To authenticate the piece, she indeed spoke with Grapefruit Moon Gallery. The owner said that although he suspected she had an original Edwin Georgi, she did not have his pretty women. As a result, if purchased by a dedicated Georgi collector, her piece might fetch $200 to $400. Not bad for $4
— competent sleuthing, G.H.!
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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