See All Ads

Stories of Rediscovery at the Boston International Fine Art Show

Jeanne Schinto | November 21st, 2013


Ecstatica II by Meghan Howland (b. 1985) is a 48" x 60" oil on panel. Finished within 24 hours prior to the show’s opening, it was offered at $15,000 by Bowersock Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Mount Dora, Florida, and sold.


The large painting in the center is Night Fishing under Moonlight by Mauritz Frederik Hendrik de Haas (1832-1895). Questroyal Fine Art, New York City, offered the 18½" x 30½" oil on canvas for $65,000. On the left (and shown separately at right) is a watercolor by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Titled Zattere, Spirito Santo and Scuola, the work on paper is 9 11/16" x 13 9/16" (sight size). The Venice picture’s price was $425,000.


On top, Gloucester Harbor, Emile Gruppe (1896-1978), 20" x 30", oil on canvas, $16,000. Below, Gifford Beal (1879-1956), Blue Water, White Waves, 16" x 20", oil on board, $9500. Clarke Gallery.


Hawthorne Fine Art wanted $65,000 for Winter in the Berkshires by Clarke Greenwood Voorhees (1871-1933). The 28" x 36" oil on canvas painting is the large picture. Below it is Schooner, Noank, Connecticut by Voorhees, a founder of the Old Lyme art colony. The 12" x 16" oil on panel was $24,000.


The young woman is looking at Self- Obliteration by Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929). The 21" x 18" acrylic on canvas is dated 1987, and was priced at $175,000 by Schillay Fine Art. The other work is Arcanium I by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008). The 22¾" x 15½" screenprint with hand coloring and collage on wove paper, number 12 from an edition of 85, was $6000.


Richard Rossello (center) of Avery Galleries, Philadelphia and New York City, spoke with a gala-goer while another took a photo. What caught his eye? The Ocean by Frederick Judd Waugh (1861-1940). Rossello asked $125,000 for the 39½" x 49½" oil on canvas.


William Vareika Fine Arts, Newport, Rhode Island, used the fair to advance its latest fundraiser. This time the effort is geared to restoring this stained-glass triptych by John La Farge (1835-1910). The middle window is shown partially restored. Photo courtesy Robert Four.


Girl’s Head (Lydia Hatch) by Edmund C. Tarbell (1862-1938) was $175,000 from Cooley Gallery, Old Lyme, Connecticut. The 20" x 15" oil on canvas was unsigned by the artist. Below it, Head and Shoulder Study by Frances C. Lyons Houston (1851-1906) was priced at $9500. The oil on panel is 5" x 7". The other, Morning on the Coast by Clement Drew (1806-1889), is 4¼" x 6¾". The oil on board seascape was marked $5250. Each of those is seen in the separate images.

Boston, Massachusetts

The 17th annual Boston International Fine Art Show took place on the weekend before Thanksgiving, November 21-24, 2013, at the Cyclorama in Boston’s South End. Forty dealers, mostly from the East Coast but also one each from Italy, France, and Canada, offered artworks for every taste and price tolerance, from $1500 to nearly $5,000,000. I attended the opening gala and returned on Sunday. At the coat check on that second visit, I asked Howard Shapiro of Lawrence Fine Art, Easthampton, New York, how he had done. “It’s been a good show,” said the dealer, who brought a mix of antique, modern, and contemporary pieces. It was an understatement. When I went around to his booth, several paintings in bubble-pack were stacked against the wall. Reportedly he had sold 15 works by one contemporary artist alone.

Because of this magazine’s mission, I visited only a few dealers who were selling strictly contemporary art, having been led there by reports of other good sales. Michael Senger of Bowersock Gallery, Mount Dora, Florida, and Provincetown, Massachusetts, for example, sold a $15,000 painting by Meghan Howland (b. 1985). He also got her a commission from another couple of collectors, who want her to paint something similar for them. We also noted activity in the booth of Argosy Gallery, Bar Harbor, Maine, whose specialty is contemporary Impressionists and realists. And we heard from the show’s coproducer Tony Fusco that the Canadian Art Collective of Toronto sold four and that Emerge Fine Art, Cary, North Carolina, sold one expensive piece.

Collecting good reports from dealers who were selling antique art or a mix of antique and contemporary was a bit more difficult. Their prices are usually higher, and the time it takes for someone to decide to buy one is usually longer, but sales did occur.

Vose Galleries, Boston, was gratified by a single large sale. Century Guild, Chicago, a late entry to the show, did well selling prints by Vienna Secessionists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Koloman Moser. “It’s rare material, and people recognized that,” said the gallery’s director, Jerry Suqi. Fusco said Quest-royal Fine Art, New York City, a “repeat offender” that has done this show for nearly every one of its 17 years, had yet another good weekend in Boston. Martha Richardson of Martha Richardson Fine Art, Newbury Street, Boston, said she sold some drawings by John La Farge and that a Karl Knaths oil on paper portrait of a seated woman, probably his wife, Helen, was out on approval. Another dealer said two deals (one for a painting marked $1600, the other for one tagged $22,000) had nearly been closed but then were quashed in each instance by the dreaded “spousal nix.” On Sunday she did sell two that made the show a successful one for her.

Fusco said that a lot happened in the last couple of hours of Sunday, which had an attendance number 200 higher than Sunday in 2012, while the gate was up 12% overall. Unfortunately, it was inevitable that several dealers sold nothing at all, and not for lack of great merchandise and all the other necessary ingredients including a great sales personality. Sometimes this weak economy feels like one of those common colds that just keep hanging on and on.

The gala was a benefit for the Shriners Hospitals for Children, whose Boston facility is one of the world’s leading centers for pediatric burn care. That must be one reason why fire chiefs support the cause and are themselves Shriners. Three in impressive navy blue uniforms with arm stripes were gala attendees. (Of course, the first thought of many dealers was that they were checking room capacity, fire exits, and whether chairs had been placed too far out in the aisles!) Another novelty at the gala this year was the presence of Comité Mistral, a French organization that promotes the brands of Provence and the Cote d’Azur, which set up several wine-tasting stations, as well as exhibits of the region’s savory crackers, candies, coffee, and perfumes.

“Dealers loved the wine tasting,” Fusco said. “It moved people all around the room instead of congregating them in one spot,” i.e., the bar, which was set up as usual at the end farthest from the entrance to this circular space. Wine people loved it too, if only because the wines were definitely a step above usual gala fare.

On each regular day of the show, as in past years, there was a well-attended special program. Entry is included in the price of admission. On Friday evening, William Vareika of Newport, Rhode Island, spoke about John La Farge’s stained-glass triptych, which Vareika is raising funds to restore. The three sections, on view at the show’s entrance, show St. John the Evangelist, Christ preaching, and St. Paul. The triptych, each of whose windows is 115" x 34", began life about two miles from the Cyclorama. It was designed by La Farge in 1889 for the All Souls Unitarian Church on Warren Avenue in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury. It hung in that church until the 1920’s, when the church was sold to another denomination. The triptych went next to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst, Massachusetts. Recently, it was sold to Vareika, after which he and his wife, Alison, donated it to Boston College (BC), Vareika’s alma mater (class of ’74). The gift is timed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of BC’s founding and the 20th anniversary of its McMullen Museum of Art. The Jesuits opened BC’s doors on September 5, 1864; it had three teachers and 22 students. Fusco said nearly three and a half times that number of people from BC alone heard Vareika’s standing-room-only presentation.

Saturday afternoon’s talk by Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), concerned John Singer Sargent’s watercolors. She presented it in conjunction with the MFA’s excellent exhibition of the same. The show marked the first time that the two most significant collections of Sargent’s watercolors, from the MFA and the Brooklyn Museum, have been on view together. (Previously shown in Brooklyn, the show closed at the MFA on January 20. It will be at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from March 2 through May 26.) Sargent never intended to sell his watercolors, Hirshler noted, but when he did, he sold them in groups. Brooklyn preempted the MFA and bought the first batch in 1909 for $20,000. Boston stepped up to buy the second batch in 1912, paying $11,000 for 45 of them. It is the equivalent of approximately $260,000 today but still a massive bargain.

At this art show, Questroyal offered at $425,000 a Sargent watercolor of Venice. It is a subject that Hirshler said the artist painted in watercolor more often than any other, and the point of view conforms to the fact that he regularly painted Venice from a gondola.

On Sunday afternoon, there was a panel discussion called “Rediscovered Masters: Lost and Found.” Panelists featured Fine Art Connoisseur editor Peter Trippi; David Cowan of Acme Fine Art, Boston; Howard Shapiro of Lawrence Fine Art; and panel moderator Peter Hastings Falk. Falk’s Web site (www.rediscover edmasters.com) serves as a platform for connecting lost, underappreciated, or unknown artists to curators, dealers, and historians.

It’s worthwhile giving ample space here to recap this program, since it reflects on what happens in the art market every day. That is, some stars rise, others fall, then sometimes rise again. Falk gave major reasons why. Fires, floods, and other natural disasters can destroy an artist’s entire oeuvre. (Photographer Carleton E. Watkins is one example that comes to mind. His studio and negatives were destroyed in the fires that followed San Francisco’s earthquake.) Wartime casualties can interrupt or end promising careers. Racial and gender biases of gallerists and others may prevent these king and queen makers from crowning anyone who doesn’t resemble themselves. And economic factors, such as bad economies, can wreak plenty of havoc upon an artist’s plans for pursuing success.

Then there is the monumentally lopsided ratio of galleries to artists. Some of those artists, sad to say, undermine their own careers. They succumb to alcoholism or substance abuse, make a mess of relationships with gallerists, or are reclusive by nature and never make overtures to galleries in the first place. Others have personal wealth that allows them to paint without having to be a supplicant knocking on gallerists’ doors. “Their work has never been seen, because no one has ever shown it,” Falk said.

Changes in taste explain why the two Victorians that Trippi discussed fell out of favor in the early 20th century. They were J.W. Waterhouse and Lawrence Alma-Tadema, each of whom was rediscovered in the 1960’s by celebrities—Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in the former case and in the latter case Candid Camera creator Allen Funt, Christopher “Kip” Forbes, and John Paul Getty. Two of the paintings that subsequently went into Funt’s collection had been previously offered to any museum in the world for free in the early 1960’s. “And the museums declined,” said Trippi, who revealed that one is on view in Paris, on loan from a private Mexican collection, while the other sold for nearly $36 million at Sotheby’s in November 2010. “The point being that people do ‘get’ these paintings now. They’re back in the conversation.”

Cowan, who with partner Jim Bennette specializes in 20th-century Modernism, discussed the rediscovery of T. Lux (Feininger) (1910-2011). Cowan said Bennette noticed a Lux painting at a Skinner auction in 2004. Both were taken with it, although they’d never heard of Lux. Their research showed that he was 94 years old and serendipitously living in nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts. They visited him and learned he was the son of Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956), artist, caricaturist, and faculty member at the Bauhaus in Germany, where Lux himself became a student in 1916. Before the Feiningers left Nazi Germany in the 1930’s, Lux stashed paintings in a bomb shelter, where they remained until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Amazed by the quality of what they found in Lux’s studio, where he still worked daily, Cowan and Bennette began selling his art, and much of it returned to Germany. Rediscovered by two Americans, Lux was ultimately honored in his native country with a centennial show. He died at 101.

Shapiro presented the story of Arthur Pinajian (1914-1999), championed today by Thomas V. Schultz, an entrepreneur, who was in the audience. Unsuccessful at marketing his art in his lifetime, Pinajian was a recluse who painted in Woodstock, New York, and in Bellport, Long Island, New York. Pinajian directed his family to destroy his work after he died. Instead, they saved it but lacked the wherewithal to promote it. The Armenian-American was “totally obscure; no one had ever heard of him when he died,” said Shapiro. His work was discovered by Schultz after he bought the artist’s family’s small cottage in Bellport. “And when he went to close on it, he found a treasure-trove of paintings in the garage, in the attic, unframed, some nibbled by mice.”

For the second time, Pinajian’s lifework might have been hauled to the dump, but Schultz “recognized something was there, and began to pursue [his story],” said Shapiro, whose gallery sells Pinajian’s artwork. A New York school artist, Pinajian is “someone who could stand proud with any of the artists of that period, whether it be a de Kooning, a Gottlieb, a Gorky, and so forth.” Schultz also found “all his notes, diaries, easels, paints, and brushes. From a scholarly perspective, this is a unique opportunity to study an artist from beginning to end, because we literally have everything.”

In his account of Pinajian’s life, Shapiro mentioned another reason why artists fall into obscurity. “Very often when an artist dies there is no spouse, no gallery owner, to promote the estate. Would Jackson Pollock be as recognized today without the promotional work that Lee Krasner did?” Even in today’s world, he said, sometimes what it takes to bring an artist back from obscurity is “just one person with the passion and willingness to devote the time and energy—Internet be damned.”

In this context it’s interesting that Fusco and Four, who are art dealers besides being show producers, have for several years been promoting the rediscovered Sam Stetson (1911-1990). Active in the 1960’s in New York and Provincetown, “He was using the same black enamel paint that de Kooning used, that they bought by the five-gallon tub, because that’s all they could afford,” Fusco told me. But then Stetson got ill in the 1970’s and everything went into storage until “not that long ago, when the complete collection [approximately 250 paintings] was bought by a dealer in Florida, who subsequently himself died. It was then bought by an investor in New Hampshire, and that’s who we’re working with.” Fusco said he and Four had to go through all the scrapbooks and other ephemera, “just to find out who Stetson was, who he studied with, where he lived. He was gone from the books, just gone.”

For more information about the show, contact Fusco and Four at (617) 363-0405 or see the Web site (www.fineartboston.com).


Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

comments powered by Disqus