Defregger or not Defregger: That is the question

Worthologist Christopher Kent was a featured Worthologist at the annual “Treasures from the Attic” antique road show held in Manassas, Va., in March 2008. With his background in antique furniture, paintings, glassware and decorative arts, he was presented with an interesting question of provenance for what appears to be a painting by Franz von Defregger, a painter favored by Adolf Hitler. But is it a genuine Defregger?

Franz von Defregger was an Austrian artist who studied in Austria, Munich and Paris throughout the 1860s. He was professor of history painting at the Munich Academy until 1910, is considered a leading genre and history painter of Munich, was a particular favorite of a fellow Austrian and would be painter, Adolf Hitler.

To begin to determine its provenance, Kent concentrates on the signature first. “For Defregger during his production in the 19th century, his signature actually changed three times,” says Kent. “We have three recorded different signatures for the artist, Franz Von Defregger. Unfortunately, this signature does not correspond to any of the recorded signatures. The ‘F’ changes, the ‘D’ changes, the ‘g’ changes periodically over 30 years, essentially.”

But what else is known about this particular painting? To answer that, Kent turns it over to examine the back of the painting itself. There, he examines a hand stamp on the panel showing a mark from Berlin. Some others type of attribution used to be attached, too, but has since been removed. These attributions could have provided a better understanding as to the painting’s origin. There is also a commercial sticker from a framer in Chicago that appears to have been added around the World War II era.

“So what do we have here,” Kent asks? “We have a studio rendering of a Defregger painting. How do we value that? From the decorative attribution, its decorative style, it’s a fine, fine rendering; very well done. I would say as a decorative piece, not antique, not with an attribution. These are sometimes called artists proof, or in this case, an exact replica of the original done exclusively for resale at galleries or studios. “

An artist proof is an impression of the final or sometimes incomplete work as it is being printed to determine how the final work will look or show the artist how a work is progressing, known as a working proof. Usually, these artist proofs are kept by the artist, are not sold all at once, and are not usually counted in the number of limited editions. In this case, though, this painting was done exclusively by an artist mimicking the exact style of the artist in style and content.

“Defragger is actually active in the auction market from $600 into five figures, depending on scale and the period of which they were painted. I would say as a decorative piece, not antique, not with an attribution, I would put this in the range of $950 to $1200. If it were original it would be about $15,000.”

Authenticating a painting by signature alone is only one way for experts to begin the process of determining provenance. Other clues such as the painting style, the way it’s framed, or other identifying marks will also play an important role in the final auction value.

So, from the signature to the style, Kent concluded, it is not a Defregger, but it does have a lasting collectible value.

A video about this painting can be viewed here .
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