Great Finds: Just a Knock Away

There is a certain cachet applied to the antiques-and-collectibles world that sometimes mystifies even me. Some folks believe that people in the business who surround themselves with antiques live an esoteric life style and that the people in that world breathe rarified air, a sort of ethereal ether.

“You must lead such an interesting life finding and dealing in such beautiful things, traveling to so many fascinating places.” I’ve actually heard this from overly well-dressed people at benefit auctions where the plate of chicken is going for a thousand dollars. Of course, under the circumstances, I agree with them. Reality simply would not be appropriate to the setting. Reality rarely is.

Most days in the business are spent doing appraisals of less-than-stellar collections; making calls to collectors; attempting to sell a perfect Louis X1V bombe commode cajoled from a private collection only to find that the client is stalling on the purchase because his horoscope says he needs to be circumspect about acquiring things.

Tonka tedium relieved

One day, sitting in my overstuffed office, there’s a knock on my door. I get up from my desk where I have been glued to my laptop cataloging a collection of 400 Tonka Toys and find on the other side of the threshold an unassuming person shouldering two large paintings. It’s one of those “I was in the neighborhood, and you were recommended” situations that frankly, under the circumstance, I welcome.

The paintings, as it turns out, are good. The subject matter appears to be a husband and wife, done in a painterly fashion—painterly meaning the artist knew something about painting—following the 19th-century portrait-painting tradition. More importantly, the subjects are interesting, attractive and for those without ancestral portraits, would make a stunning addition to the dining-room walls.

Documentation: The appraiser’s joy

And, even more importantly, the bearer of the portraits has documentation about the artist and to some extent, the sitters. Now, this is the time when that cachet thing bears fruit. Another point that makes the life of the appraiser so much easier is the paintings are signed. Many people don’t know that most 19th-century portraiture was not signed. Appraisers make an educated guess based on style and the tradition of the painting as to whom may have painted it, and sometimes an attribution is impossible.

My assessing eye sees that the paintings’ condition is generally good. One has a small hole, but that is something a conservator can easily repair without devaluing the painting. The paintings are dirty, meaning the varnish has darkened with age, but that can easily be remedied. They appear to be in their original frames, another good thing. There is, with a cursory examination, no overpainting, meaning no one touched up the original painting either to enhance—by enhance, I mean to make the sitters appear younger by the removal of a few wrinkles or jowls, or richer with the addition of more jewelry—or repair damage that occurred in the 100-plus years the paintings have been around.

Sherlock appraiser

Now, here is when my job becomes fun, and yes, the words of the well-dressed lady at the benefit auction ring true. There is a certain intrigue in the process of authenticating that requires the sharp eye and instinct of the well-seasoned detective. We sometimes have to dredge through weighty Dead Sea Scrolls to get the information that we need. The Internet is useful and sometimes invaluable but can also be limited. We as appraisers have to go beneath the printed word to find additional links that will give us the information we need to make the declarative pronouncement.

People, to old paper guys like me, are invaluable. Documentation in and unto itself is sometimes as apocryphal as some of the “true” stories applied to certain pieces. “Oh, yes, these waffle irons belonged to George Washington, and he used them himself only on Tuesdays in leap years.” Hmm.

Paintings are real deal

After a few telephone calls to substantiate the documentation, all, as they say, was revealed. These paintings were the genuine article.

The artist, Theodore Pine, is a known quantity. His paintings hang in public and private collections. He is listed in all the important books. There are 2,000-plus links to him on the Internet. And although there are no recent auction reports to establish value, there is enough documentation to legitimize a perceived value on the portraits.

The portraits’ subjects, the Rev. and Mrs. George S. Hare DD, were prominent members of their community, and it was the tradition of Theodore Pine to paint people on the rise and of distinction. He came from a long line of artists. His grandfather, Robert Pine, was both artist and engraver. James Pine, his father, exhibited at the National Academy of Design from 1839 until 1857. Theodore, at 19, held his first exhibition at the National Academy in 1847 and continued to contribute through the 1880s.

Pine portraits in Ossining, home of Sing Sing

Many of Pine’s portraits are in the permanent collection of the Ossining (N.Y.) Historical Society Museum. Pine’s most famous portraits are dramatically different.

Rev. and Mrs. MacFarlan

Rev. and Mrs. MacFarlan

Two are of the Rev. and Mrs. Daniel MacFarlan. They are richly dressed and seated in front of silver birch trees. A village dotted with white buildings is off in the distance, boats sail on the river, and the sky is turbulent and misty.

Typical of when the MacFarlan paintings were done (1857), embellishment of detail usually was in keeping to the fee. If you wanted your house, farm and prized bull in the painting, you paid extra. These paintings are excellent examples of American portraiture and justifiably deserve to be in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Pine’s other famous painting is the posthumous portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee, which hangs in the chapel of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

Pine portrait of General Lee

Pine portrait of General Lee

Pine’s body of work not only included portraits but allegorical themes, landscapes and architectural studies in the style and tradition of a well-traveled artist. There is a school of thought within the appraising community that specializes in American portraiture that Pine is not of the first water. I disagree. There is a demonstration of a smooth style that incorporates skill without the need for artifice and tricks, and captures the personality of the sitter with a directness and candor separate from the stylized painting traditions of the day.

To appraise or not to appraise?

This begs the question. Should you have your paintings appraised? The answer is yes if the painting warrants it, remembering that an appraisal is usually done for insurance purposes and/or to establish resale value. With the Pine portraits, to be considered were their restoration, cleaning and securing the damage of the canvas, along with establishing a value. You might ask whether restoration potentially devalues the painting. The answer is only if an inferior conservator does the work, and even then, that can usually be repaired.

Okay, now for the proverbial drumroll, the time to put an appraised value on the Pine portraits. All documentation had been done. Other considerations were taken into account such as the sale trends of such paintings. And my final verdict?

The pair of Theodore Pine portraits of the Rev. and Mrs. George S. Hare would be appraised for $20,000 to $25,000.

It was a good thing I was in my office that day.

– Christopher Kent is a member of the WorthPoint board of advisers and director of evaluations for WorthPoint. He is also an antiques and collectibles generalist, fine-arts broker and president of CTK Design.

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  1. mike r says:

    Good evening, I would like to ask if there are any people in wisconsin, that you would reccomend for repair or restoration?
    Also, would you be able to reccomend anyone to verify artist of a painting in wisconsin and appraise paintings?

    I own a george colby 1911 Tilted “bringing home sunday diner” of a old man in a winter scene walking toward a cabin in a wooded snow scene, carrying a gun in one hand and a couple of fresh rabbits in the other. Walking to a cabin, with a fire glowing in the window and two foot of snow on the roof of the cabin set in the woods. I believe this painting to be a water color . I love this scene, therefore I wish to keep this one. But I would appreciate anty opinion you would share with me on this topic?

  2. NICK DALIO says:

    i have a 1937 ibm electric typewriter that was given me in the middle 70’s; I tested it and at thattime it was working. i did have a maintenance tag that it was service in 1937, but I can’t seem to find it. I joined the site here hoping to learn something about antique type items; I have other old NFL items also from the joining of the 2 leagues. I would like to not keep storing it. great story of luck for the lady in the story

  3. Carol Walcott says:

    I have two pictures by TS Cooper RA 1883 picture 1 of sheep in paddock, picture 2 with donkey in stable overlooking two pigs, one pink and one black. These have been handed down by generations, so called very valuable? How can I get these appraised, living in Australia.


    I found this article very interesting. I had several items appraised . I was insulted the way they spoke to me. packed up & left.You have to pick the right appraiser it seemto get a true value.

  5. jeannine says:

    I have 4 large etchings-very old–dated 1777 by John Boydell. Are they of any value? I wonder how I could sell them and what if anything, they are worth?

  6. sue says:

    I have a painting by Catherine Catherwood. An oil painting she gave me when I was in my teens back 40 plus years ago. do you know anything about her work?

  7. j ellis says:

    website name: TALE0000, site administrator.
    **** i paid to join worhtpoint, asked about a painting i have, ‘the artist & his model’ a marc chagall painting. received an obscure reply & emailed asking if it were only a copy how much would it be worth. and have still not had a reply? have taken it to an antique dealer who could not spot it as a fake.

  8. ThomPattie says:

    I am Thom Pattie Chief Worthologist and would like to help you. First i would need to know when you paid to join Worthpoint did you pay $19.95 to have a Worthologist answer a question? Or did you post the question in Ask the Community for free. In order to track the problem I need to know where to start.

    If you would like to email me with your question and detailed photographs of the item, I will help you directly.

  9. ocorder says:

    It would have been nice to see the pictures that the atricle referenced.

  10. anna murray says:

    I have an abstract painting I found behind another painting, that belonged to a WW11 veteran.But I would like to know why it was behind this other one and if its valuable? Its an abstract of a french soldier,,,,Sincerely Anne