FALLS CHURCH, Va. – The area around Washington, D.C., has always been a sweet spot for European art discoveries because so many high-ranking diplomats and government officials live there. Traditionally, these are sophisticated people who’ve traveled extensively and returned home to the nation’s capital with art and antiques acquired during their overseas stints.
Matthew Quinn, partner in Quinn’s Auction Galleries, is accustomed to dealing with consignments and estate contents from D.C.’s diplomats and high society, so it takes something rather special to capture his imagination. That happened recently when a Washington woman brought in a painting that, while unsigned, was identified on verso as being the work of Honoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879). Daumier was best known for his satirical lithographs, and produced nearly 4,000 lithos before he lost his sight at age 64. As he was creating his lithographs, he also painted. However, Daumier’s paintings are rare; very few were displayed publicly during the artist’s lifetime.
Quinn said he was struck by the exceptional quality of the oil-on-panel “Daumier” artwork the minute the consignor presented it to him. When Quinn asked the consignor how the picture had been acquired, she advised that she had inherited it from her aunt’s estate in Paris.
The painting appears to be an oil sketch that Daumier would have created prior to executing his oil-on-panel works in the series titled The Print Collector. The subject of this series is a top-hatted gentleman who browses through art prints in a gallery setting. (The Art Institute of Chicago and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are among the institutions that own originals from the series.) The French writing on the back of the consigned painting – “H. Daumier / esquisse originate pour l’amateur d’estampes” – loosely translates to: “H. Daumier / original outline (i.e., study) for The Print Collector.”
Several knowledgeable buyers of European art who viewed the painting at Quinn’s gallery said they were impressed both by its beauty and the artist’s refined technique. “But that’s not enough for me to say it’s positively a Daumier,” said Quinn. “In fact, I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to discredit this painting, but I can’t. Realistically, a signed Daumier in today’s market might bring in the range of $60,000 to $80,000, but this artwork is not signed, so without solid provenance, we’re offering it in our March 6 sale with an attribution to Daumier and a $6,000-$8,000 estimate. It will be interesting to see what it will bring as an unsigned, attributed work.”
The auction contains yet another D.C. fine-art mystery – a painting that came out of a northwest Washington house whose long-time lodger, now deceased, originally came from Bulgaria. “The painting was one of 50 artworks found leaning against the wall in the basement where the man lived,” said Quinn. “The painting is an outdoor tavern scene in the manner of David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, 1610-1690). On the panel of its frame it says ‘David Teniers,’ and at its lower right, you can see the faint initials ‘M.H.’ We think it was possibly painted by Teniers’ follower Matteus Helmont (1623-1679). If so, it could be a very valuable painting, but we just aren’t sure. For now, it remains another Washington D.C. art mystery.”
Quinn’s Auction Galleries’ March 6 sale features more than 400 lots, with all forms of bidding available. For additional information, call 703-532-5632 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit Quinn’s online at www.quinnsauction.com.
Photos courtesy Quinn’s Auction Galleries.
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