ART DIRECTIVES Client Case Study A
The Proof is in The Provenance A portrait of James Buchanan by William Merritt Chase is appraised for $160,000
By William D’Anjolell and Rochelle Eisenberg
Art Matters, April 2002
Several months ago, our firm completed a large replacement value appraisal of fine art, antique furniture and period antiques for a private school in Pennsylvania. Included in this appraisal was a portrait oil painting by American Impressionist William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), a master of impressionistic landscape, still-life and the portrait.
After studying five years at the Royal Academy in Munich, Chase settled in New York, where he became the most important American teacher of his generation and dominated the universe of American art during the late 19th century. He taught at the Art Students’ League of New York and in 1896 founded the Chase School of Art (now known as the Parsons School of Design). His students were encouraged to paint in the open air and included such luminaries as Georgia O’Keefe, Charles Sheeler and George Bellows.
When Chase died in 1916, his work was described by Ronald Pisano who worked on the Chase catalogue raisonne and stated “he mastered the ability to create a casual image of life suspended in time which, while looking effortless and unpremeditated, was actually carefully composed to reflect the movement of real people in real life situations.”
In our appraisal, the painting by Chase was a portrait of James Buchanan, our 15th president and the only one from Pennsylvania. Born in 1791, Buchanan graduated from Dickinson College, learned law, served as secretary of state under President Polk, was named minister to Great Britain under President Pierce and was elected president in 1857. He tried to close the widening rift over slavery but left his successor, Abraham Lincoln, to resolve the pending Civil War facing the nation. In 1868, Buchanan died at his Pennsylvania home. These historical factors enhance the painting’s significance and value.
This oil on canvas had a large image size of 51” x 38” depicting a standing Buchanan in a dark suit from his head down to his knees with a dark, almost black background all around him. We used our usual array that gave us a range of value for comparable paintings by Chase.
We discussed the piece with some noted art gallery dealers who sell original works by Chase. Two of the dealers questioned its authenticity due to the precision of the painting and dark background. We had seen other Chase portraits and most had light and more colorful backgrounds. We needed more proof and asked our contact at the school to see if they had any notes or letters about the painting since they had already turned up a few interesting letters to add provenance for other items in their appraisal.
As some time passed, we heard from other art dealers who felt that the piece might even be an “After” which is a copy of the work of the artist. However, that same week, we received a parcel of mail from our contact at the school. In the package were copies of two letters written by William Merritt Chase to a school administrator, dated May 15, 1901, and May 22, 1901, both of which discuss the portrait of James Buchanan, confirming the authenticity of the painting. We had also found from our research another Chase portrait painted in the similar precise manner with a dark background. It was advertised for sale in an antiques magazine. With this additional provenance and research, the value of the oil painting escalated to a total of $160,000 at replacement value for insurance. The proof lies in the provenance!
The artwork of William Merritt Chase can be found in many museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in Missouri, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Parrish Art Museum in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
William D’Anjolell is an associate appraiser at ART DIRECTIVES, Inc. which is located in Blue Bell, PA. Rochelle Eisenberg is the president of ART DIRECTIVES and an accredited senior appraiser with the American Society of Appraisers.