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johnok
05-26-2007, 12:43 AM
Hello,

I don't do pastel work but I thought I would ask a question here. I recently bought an old antique frame that is probably more than 100 years old. The frame has the inside dimensions I need for an oil painting I'm working on. (20"x24") I planned to get rid of the old print that was mounted in the frame but as I was taking it apart I found that an old canvas was being used to hold the old print in place. When I detached the canvas from the frame I found it is an original pastel portrait of who I beleive is Mark Twain, probably dated pre-1880's. The canvas is in bad shape (its starting to tear around the wooden frame on two sides) but the pastel is in pretty good shape for being more than 100 years old. The only thing wrong with the pastel is a smear cause by rubbing against the print that was in front of it.

What do you guys think of this peice? There is a signature on the back but I do not know how to read it. Can someone point me to a resource that can help me find out more about this portrait?

I live in Connecticut near where Mark Twain lived and this frame also came from an estate in the area. These things plus the resemblance of the portrait to Mark Twain has me wondering if I have stumbled onto something here. Do you guys think Im crazy or does this warrent looking into furhter? Do you think its worth money?

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/25-May-2007/101891-portrait-1.jpg

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/25-May-2007/101891-portrait-2.jpg

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/25-May-2007/101891-portrait-3.jpg

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/25-May-2007/101891-portrait-condition.jpg

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/25-May-2007/101891-portrait-signature.jpg

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/25-May-2007/101891-portrait-frame.jpg

John

David Patterson
05-26-2007, 01:05 AM
wow! this could be quite the find. I wonder if there is a website that shows various artists signatures? Good luck, I would love researching something like this if it were mine - how exciting!

David

bchlvr
05-26-2007, 08:18 AM
I agree...this is a real find and worth researching further.

hopalong
05-26-2007, 08:22 AM
Antiques Road Show for sure!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kathryn Wilson
05-26-2007, 09:10 AM
Or a local art museum with a curator who would know the signature. Definitely worth looking into. A fine example of how pastels do hold up over time.

Pat Isaac
05-26-2007, 09:16 AM
What a great find and definitely researching. A museum would be a good start. Keep us posted.

Pat

Bringer
05-26-2007, 12:29 PM
wow! this could be quite the find. I wonder if there is a website that shows various artists signatures? Good luck, I would love researching something like this if it were mine - how exciting!

David

Indeed there is, David :http://www.findartinfo.com/browse/signatures.asp

Well John, I think you may have found something valuable.
I wouldn't take it to restore in terms of the painting itself.
I also agreen the Kathryn.

Best regards,

Josť

DAK723
05-26-2007, 12:55 PM
Fascinating! I would contact the nearest local art museum.

Don

AnnieA
05-26-2007, 01:13 PM
How cool! It's a wonderful portrait, and it sure looks to me that it is of Mark Twain.It also looks like it's very well done and in pretty good shape. I agree with the idea about the museum. There would probably be people there who would know about artists of the past in your local area, and who might be able to identify the signature and advise you about the worth of your find.

Please let us know what you find out.

nvcricket
05-27-2007, 04:16 AM
I would research Mark Twains life. He looks 50ish, I don't know. He traveled alot. Find out where he was living around that time, and see what artists were notable in that time period in that area. He has a colorful history here in Northern Nevada, and I know the curators in musuems here would as excited as you with this find. He worked in Virginia City, and there is alot of information about his stay here. Miners came from all walks of life, and would ply their trades when they needed some grub...

Good Luck

Carol

johnok
05-27-2007, 06:34 AM
I would research Mark Twains life. He looks 50ish, I don't know. He traveled alot. Find out where he was living around that time......


We estimate that in this portrait he was in his late 40's to early 50's. Mark Twain would have been living in Hartford Connecticut around that time in his life. Hartford is only about 40 minutes from where I live. Also, we found out that in the mid 1890's (when Twain would have been in his 60's) he lost most of his furtune to bad investsments. There was an article that we found explaining that Twain needed to go back to work at this time, giving lectures and teaching, to make new money that would cover his debts. He also sold off many of his belongings from the Hartford home to raise money. (Ding!) ....Its our understanding that he sold a good amount of personal belongings and then his family left Connecticut and moved overseas for several years. I beleive that if he had an estate sale of his own there must be records of the items sold and this portrait could be listed among the items. I don't know where to find such records but I keep searching the internet. This part of the story could explain why a portrait of him was found in someone elses estate.

We also found auction markings on the back side of the frame. There is a name and lot number and some other written markings that I do not understand. Also, the picture that was in the frame (that I was planning to throw out) is really an old photograph of two old men. The photo looks as if it was taken in the late 1800's also. Written in pencil on the back are the names of the two men in the picture and their addresses. I can only assume the addresses are local to CT because no town or state is given. It could be more info to research and could help identify the portrait and frames history.

Now, here is an assumption on my part... but I beleive its possible that the slight smear you see on the portrait could have occured at some point after it was purchased from Mark Twains estate sale in the 1890's and the new oweners decided to put the picture of the two men in the frame and use the portrait of Mark Twain as its support. Perhaps they figured... the portrait is safe this way and we will have it fixed some day in the future. Evetually the portrait was forgotten about. Later in time younger family members, when going through their parents stuff, thought this was just an old picture in a really nice frame and so they sold it off. The antique dealer I purchased it from also had no idea about the portrait and it finally made its way to my house where I rediscovered it. It would be a great story if I can now find evidence to support it.

I contacted the "Mark Twain House" museum here in Hartford. It was after they all went home for the weekend so I left a message explaining what I found and I asked them to contact me to authenticate the peice.

I'll keep you informed.

John

doe
05-27-2007, 08:52 AM
Sure looks like him and sounds like it could be authentic. It wouldn't hurt to contact the Wadsorth Atheneum also. A good conservator can be helpful too. What a great find! We used to live in the Mark Twain apartments next to the Mark Twain house in Hartford back in the '70's and that frame sure would go in that house - very ornate.

Lisa M
05-28-2007, 09:08 AM
Be sure to let us know what you find out!! If I saw this as a secret find when shopping for used frames as you did (and I often do), I'd snatch it up in a second. Lucky you!!!!

Lisa

johnok
05-28-2007, 11:44 AM
Upon closer examination of the portrait, I realize that the pastel is not applied directly to the canvas material. The portrait is on some kind of paper and the paper is adhered to the canvas in some way. The canvas is disintegrating (very brittle) but the paper with the portrait is in much better shape.

I have gone over the peice several times to locate any additional written markings. But the only writing that exists is the one on the back side as pictured in my original post above. Was it common for artists to sign their names on the back side of their artwork? Also, I was wondering if the markings could have been applied from the front before the paper was attached to the canvas. This would mean that what we see on the back is really a reverse image of the writing on the front after some the ink came through the canvas. Does this sound reasonable? (It might help to decipher the markings that are visible from the back.) ...Does anyone have a clue what those letters are?

Also, is it a common practice to mount a pastel peice done on paper to a canvas backing? Does this method help understand or date this peice? (i.e. "...they only used to do that in the old days")

John

Pabs
05-28-2007, 01:27 PM
Wow, what a fascinating piece of history, not only of art, but local history, literary history and also history of a much wider and greater significance - your country.
What a gem of a find.
Regards,
Pabs

reisSUEd
05-28-2007, 07:38 PM
Looks more like a signature if it is turned and mirrored like this:
http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/28-May-2007/66950-101891-portrait-signature.jpg

doe
05-28-2007, 08:54 PM
...Does anyone have a clue what those letters are?

Also, is it a common practice to mount a pastel peice done on paper to a canvas backing? Does this method help understand or date this peice? (i.e. "...they only used to do that in the old days")

John

Seriously - I know I misspelled Wadsworth but a good conservator would be able to answer those questions. Here's a link to the American Institute for Conservation:

http://aic.stanford.edu/

They give you alot of guidance that could be helpful and you can locate someone in your area.

artist_pw
05-28-2007, 10:55 PM
Hi:

Wow, how cool! Try to find a reputable art appraiser to give you a possible estimate too. Apart from it possibly being valuable, it is a really nice sensitive portait of a great person. The best of luck and what a fun thing! :)

doe
05-29-2007, 08:59 AM
Here are some local people:

http://www.wadsworthatheneum.org/learn/museum-staff.php

Piper Ballou
05-29-2007, 11:19 AM
how exciting is this......what are you doing to protect the painting now?
good luck

johnok
05-29-2007, 11:26 PM
...what are you doing to protect the painting now?
good luck

I have the portrait in my closet on an open shelf face up. I'm waiting for a call-back from the Mark Twain House museum in Hartford CT. I tried the wadsworth atheneum but they said to try the Mark Twain House first.

Does anyone have any suggestions about what the signature is? Can you make out any specific letters? How about orientation... what do you think is the correct way? (I tried the link for signatures that was provided. Its a pay site and I'm not even sure what name to look up.)

John

RooGal
05-30-2007, 10:27 AM
A terrific find John! I love stuff like this and wonder about the history behind the painting. Fascinating! Looking forward to hearing more about this lovely surprise. Hope you can find some answers.
Cheers,
Pam

BruceF
05-30-2007, 12:46 PM
Cool find :thumbsup:

You might want to cross-post this to the Art History discussion forum on WC!. I'm sure they'll have some suggestions on how to proceed on possibly figuring out the artist.
http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=24

johnok
06-02-2007, 01:23 PM
Update...

I spke with an official from the Mark Twain House. They are interested in seeing the portrait.

I uploaded about 12 pictures for them to review via email. They said the story fits and they also confirmed that in 1903 Mark Twain sold most of his possesions that were being stored in the Hartford House. This included paintings, furniture, personal belongings, etc. Most of it went.

They said that its unusual to get a request to review an original portrait like this and mostly they are asked to authenticate Mark Twain signatures in old books.

They will review the pictures (and the writings on the canvas and frame) this weekend and let me know what they think on Monday.

I'll let you all know what comes of this as soon as I hear somthing.

John

doe
06-03-2007, 08:37 AM
How exciting - can't wait to see what they think!

johnok
06-06-2007, 10:21 PM
Here is the initial feedback from the Mark Twain House. (...they are stil looking into it.) It's amazing how they found the attached image. I have sent anothere email to the Mark Twain House with some more of my own questions. I'll keep you posted on this project.


-----from the Mark Twain House-----

Hi John,

Thank you for sending those photographs of your portrait of Twain. I got a chance to look at it a bit this week, but I still have a bunch of unanswered questions! Here's what I can tell you. Your painting is very similar to an image of Twain that was published in 1894 (see the attached image). My guess (and this is just a guess based on not seeing the work in person and doing only preliminary research) is that your work was not painted from life. I'm basing that on two things - how similar it is to the 1894 image of Twain, and the fact that the shoulders in your painting seem too wide for Twain's real body frame.

The image we have of Twain says "The Perry Pictures" at the bottom. "Eugene Ashton and Ella Perry publish the Perry Magazine for School and Home through 1906 [beginning in the 1890s]. The Perry Magazine was a marketing and communications vehicle from a company involved in schoolroom decoration and the picture study movement at the end of the nineteenth century. The magazine promoted the use of small, inexpensive, reproductions of fine art and contemporary photographs in lessons. Many of the articles in the Perry Magazine contained lessons about moral and ethical issues as well as art history and art appreciation. The content of the Perry Magazine was determined by the economic, social, and political issues of the day. Eugene and Ella met as school principals in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The story of their marriage and business is one of success as capitalist ventures. Having been teachers they understood what teachers needed. The Perry Magazine had a large influence on the introduction of art appreciation and art reproductions into the public school curriculum. Before the publication of the Perry Magazine only the elite had access to fine art."

So, many people could have had access to this particular image of Twain.

...that's it, so far.

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/06-Jun-2007/101891-mark_twain_perry_picture_1894_small.jpg

doe
06-07-2007, 09:39 AM
Interesting. The portrait you have makes him look younger though and is more detailed, however the pose is identical. No matter what, you have a great pastel portrait of Mark Twain. I've also read that he had a number of portaits done of himself and he is a popular subject. Thanks for posting this interesting story! Looking forward to hearing more.

johnok
06-09-2007, 12:37 AM
Update.

I spoke with an appraiser who looked at the portrait and here is what she said: Mark Twain was a very common subject for artists back in the late 1800's. Many portraits of Twain have come up for sale over the years and most are not bringing in big money at present. (...people are not interested in buying old Mark Twain portraits right now.)

The process that was used on this portrait, which was quite common back in the late 1800's, was to take an large paper print of an existing painting or photograph, in this case of Twain, and paint or pastel directly onto it - using the print as a quide. This is how she suspects my portrait was done. If we scraped away the pastel we would likely see a large print of Mark Twain , possibly the same print that the Mark Twain house sent me.

As for the artist, its anyones guess who those letters on the back of the canvas belong to. Many artists made portraits on Twain in the late 1800's. Twain was a beloved national figure in his day - a very popular subject for artists.

The appraiser said that its not worth doing a full workup on this peice. In its present condition she estimated that at auction its worth several hundred dallors at best. Again, Mark Twain art is not selling for big dallors in the auction houses right now. However, she suggested I could try to get a more realistic price from a local auction house because they have records of how much peices like mine are selling for. Thats it on the portrait.

The frame is late victorian - between 1870 to 1900. Its value is anywhere from $170 to less than $500. (...Victorian is also not in demand these days so the value of this frame would not be that high at auction.)

So.... my find is not a national treasure after all. But, its still an interesting piece of art and very well done. I'm going to use the frame on an oil painting I'm working on and put the portrait of Twain into a safe storage spot for now.

Thanks for following this story.

John

(P.S. In doing this research I'm amazed at how detailed oil pastels can be. I saw some works that appear almost photorealistic. I always thought of pastels as being like crayons - that you could not really create detailed art with them. See... Mark Twain taught me something new! I may try oil pastels in the future. Take it easy everyone.)

BruceF
06-09-2007, 03:11 AM
<SNIP>
(P.S. In doing this research I'm amazed at how detailed oil pastels can be. I saw some works that appear almost photorealistic. I always thought of pastels as being like crayons - that you could not really create detailed art with them. See... Mark Twain taught me something new! I may try oil pastels in the future. Take it easy everyone.)
If the painting was done in oil pastels, then you are looking at 1920s or later as oil pastels were only invented around that time. Traditional pastels are the powdery pigments with a minimal amount of binder. But, they could have been coated with a fixative to alter that appearance. Either one could be used to do detailed or photorealistic art in skilled hands, IMHO.

doe
06-09-2007, 09:05 AM
It seems like it would be difficult to get the soft pastel (this doesn't look like oil pastel from the photo) to stick to a print as she suggests. Paint makes sense but not pastel. So I'm not sure of that theory myself. Keep him under glass anyway - just put him back in a cheap frame with spacers to keep the glass away from the painting. Enjoyed the story!

johnok
06-09-2007, 09:56 AM
If the painting was done in oil pastels, then you are looking at 1920s or later as oil pastels were only invented around that time. Traditional pastels are the powdery pigments with a minimal amount of binder. But, they could have been coated with a fixative to alter that appearance. Either one could be used to do detailed or photorealistic art in skilled hands, IMHO.

What is the difference between 'oil pastels' and 'soft pastels'?

John

Pat Isaac
06-09-2007, 10:24 AM
The main difference is the binder that holds them together. Oil pastels are made from pigment, wax, and an inert oil. The professional brands have more oil and pigment and less wax. I'm not sure what the binder is in soft pastels. It is true that Sakura invented the first oil pastels in the 1920s..Craypas. The professional brands came later in the 40s and 50s.

Pat