Mystery of ‘Chandler’ Paintings Solved with a Little Detective Work

A painting signed simply with the name “Chandler” turns out to have been created by the “W.H. Chandler and Co.” of New York City. Founded by William Henry Chandler, the company produced paintings for sale in department stores in the late 1800 and early 1900s. Seascapes, like this one, were the rarest of all Chandler pieces, and can sell for upwards of $500 today.

A painting signed simply with the name “Chandler” turns out to have been created by the “W. H. Chandler and Co.” of New York City. Founded by William Henry Chandler, the company produced paintings for sale in department stores in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Seascapes, like this one, were the rarest of all Chandler pieces and can sell for upward of $500 today.

Over the years, I have come across a great many pastels but never put two and two together regarding the artists. The reasons are many: One, because most were done by amateurs for whom little biographical information exists; and two, most sell for rather modest amounts. After recently coming across several signed by the same artist, a signature reading “Chandler,” I decided to pull out the stops and do a little research into who this Chandler was.

Generally, when one finds a half-dozen pieces of artwork by the same artist over a period of a couple of years, there is generally some biographical information available, but it was not the case with Chandler. None of the usual reference sources I had on hand, nor any I subscribed, to had anything other than sales of Chandler’s pastels at auction.

In such cases, one has to think outside the loop and broaden the research to first find general references to the artist’s name and narrow it down from there, e.g. Internet searches for “Chandler print,” “Signed Chandler,” “Chandler still life,” etc. I hit pay dirt with “Chandler fruit,” a search based on a Chandler I had just seen of a bowl of fruit, which brought up the artist’s full name—William Henry Chandler—and his date of birth and death (1854-1928). Using this new information, I found an obscure booklet on the artist titled “Chandler—Early American Pastel Artist” by Peter Neeley and a few other references sourced in the booklet that allowed me to put flesh to the bare bones.

As it turned out, “Chandler” was no amateur. In fact, his company had probably produced more pastels than any other artist of his time, and he led a rather interesting life.

William Henry Chandler was born on June 9, 1854, in New York City. His working life started as a cameo engraver in a button factory, but his art output didn’t start in earnest until 1887 when he partnered with his brother, Frank Chandler (1857-1912), to create the label of “W. H. Chandler and Co.” in New York City’s lower Manhattan.

Unlike the work of other decorative-art producers, such as Currier & Ives or Taber Prang, W. H. Chandler and Co. did not turn out art in mass production. Instead, it created its art in what was called “The Loft,” where up to 20 easels were set up with some artists working three at a time. Other artists worked at home on a piecework basis. Pastels were not the only product. W. H. Chandler and Co. produced oils, watercolors and charcoals, as well. The bulk of Chandler’s company’s output was in the form of landscapes, featuring some form of water, such as a lake, stream, river or waterfall, with mountain backdrops dotted with cabins and cottages. Still-life images of fruit bowls and hanging wild game are not as common, and the rarest of all Chandler pieces are seascapes.

Chandler pastels were mainly sold through art stores, art dealers, gift shops and department stores such as Simpson’s, Eaton’s and Hudson Bay in Canada, and Marshall Field’s, Sears, Higbee’s and the May Company in the United States. Chandler operated the company until his death on Feb. 26, 1928. The company was taken over then by William McMurray Thompson, who had apprenticed under Chandler. Today, it is still possible to find a Chandler pastel for less than $200, but Chandler’s day as a relative unknown are over, with some of the larger seascapes pieces now selling for more than $500 at auction and even average landscapes pushing $400.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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