J.S. writes that she found an original oil on hardboard at a vintage shop: she asks if I might help identify its near-illegible signature. What follows is how I narrow down a probability of who the artist may be: a real sleuthing trip!
Look at the signature; what is legible is the first letter “H”. Notice that there could be two last names; although in some cases the second name could be a place name. if an artist is making an oil sketch or a study, you might see a place name.
What can we infer with just the initial H? Most likely, we are going to search for an American or British artist because most European painters do not sign with initials as frequently as Anglos. So let’s assume the artist had a double-barreled British name.
Notice the second letter “R”. I suggest using the invaluable artprice.com that allows me to plug in “HR” to find a double-barreled last name with those initials. Nothing comes up with two names after “HR” so I try “HB” – still nothing with a pair of names.
So, assume the second name might be a place (more later). Focus on the signature after the “H” with a last name beginning “R” or “B”, having at least a pair of L’s in the middle and ending in what looks like a “P”.
After I plug Hillop and Billop into ArtPrice, options for show Hislop and Bishop. Really looking, I think we are dealing with an artist named H. Bishop.
A general Google search shows that an artist H. Bishop (1868-1939) is in the collection of the Tate in London: there we see a biography of Bishop and three examples of his work.
Now focus on the scene or subject matter of the painting. Where does it look like this was painted? Even though we know H. Bishop was English, it doesn’t look like an English countryside, perhaps because of the birch trees and the architecture of the two cottages. And we faintly see an outline of a mountain in the background. Bishop’s bio says he studied in Brittany and began his career in Cornwall, leaving for more exotic scenes of Italy and Morocco.
Yes, this could be a scene in Brittany or Cornwall…
Bishop was born in 1868; we assume this painting dates before his 30th birthday in 1898. Focusing on the painting’s support, it is not canvas but Masonite, which is flat on one side and corrugated on the other. Masonite was patented in 1924 by a friend of Thomas Edison, William H. Mason, who derived his invention from hardboard, developed in England in 1898. Remember that for our hypothesis to work, the support Bishop used had to exist in 1898!
Google “artist’s signatures” and find out how H. Bishop signed his paintings. They are signed small and loose, in the bottom left corners (artists will generally lay claim to one corner and sign there only). Notice J.S.’s paintings is not signed in black oil, but purple. Looking at ArtPrice, we see that Bishop seems to sign in dark tones. ArtPrice also quotes the support used, and we find one painting out of about 30 on hardboard.
Finally, use ArtPrice and AskArt to study the STYLE of other works by H. Bishop. Both sites list only paintings that have been sold, so that you can get a clear picture of market value, and you see good auction catalogue photography.
Now go through my checklist of determinants of an artist’s style:
Regarding composition, look at three main elements in J.S.’s paintings: foreground, middle ground and background. Where does the artist place most of his information? If we have a match, equal space (proportion) is given to each of these three elements consistently. This applies to landscape artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries, whose vision remains their consistent area of study.
Google place names in Cornwall beginning with the recognizable letter B, ending in S. Only one village is found: Bangors, which could be that second name – which seems to have a “g” in the middle. Now look to see if the trees and architecture resemble your painting: they do! If I am right, your painting is worth $2,000, nice return on a $15 investment.
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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