On my national appraisal show tour every year, I appraise approximately 20,000 art and antique objects that people bring to me.
During my annual appraisal event hosted by the famous Seattle Home Show at the CenturyLink Center, a member of my audience brought me a 19th century work of art for appraisal. I reviewed the paper, I studied the brushstrokes, I listened to the owner’s story, I evaluated the artist’s signature and I appraised the painting. Sure, I see more than my fair share of wonderful works of art and antiques. But this piece was special.
Over the years, I have appraised and authenticated the likes of stained glass Tiffany lamps, Civil War swords with iron clad provenance, abstract Expressionist paintings and Alexander Calder mobiles, just to name a few. All of the objects tell a story. With this particular object, the story was typical but the piece was fabulous.
On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Seattle, I discovered a work of art that had traveled far from its original home in France. This piece has not been on the books for a long, long time. It remained in a private collection since the 1940s. A woman brought the French Impressionist painting in watercolor executed by one of French Impressionism’s stars, Eugene Boudin (1824-1898), to my appraisal event.
She told me that the painting was left to her by a relative, and that her relative received the painting during World War II. The painting was exchanged in Hong Kong as payment of a debt. Her relative worked in a dry goods store, and in order to pay a bill, a shopper who owned the painting traded it for his order. That is all she knew about the painting of men and women at the beach.
Boudin is known to art historians as one of the artists in the circle of, and the sometime teacher of, Claude Monet. He befriended the young Monet in 1858 and encouraged him to paint a landscape in the Impressionist style. Boudin was a regular at the Paris Salon exhibits. He won a gold medal at the Exposition Universalle in 1889 and was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 1892.
The site of the newly discovered painting was one that Boudin knew well: the beach at Trouville. The piece was clearly signed and dated as “E. Boudin 1884.”
It was painted during the long period of time when Boudin dedicated much of his artistic production to executing paintings of the middle class at play. He painted many works featuring figures enjoying a respite from their busy city lives. He depicted the figures sitting on the beach and enjoying the sea air. Boudin’s favorite subjects were beaches, boats and water.
Beach scenes by Boudin are in the collections of the Musee d’Orsay and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. The beach at Trouville is a subject that Boudin addressed throughout his career, dating back to the early 1860s, and one that he painted intensely from circa 1883 to 1887. The women on the beach wearing their period dress and characteristic hats, the oversized umbrellas and the wooden beach chairs positioned on the sand are forms that are masterfully repeated in this newly discovered painting as well as other documented beach landscapes by Boudin.
I appraised the Boudin watercolor at $17,000 to $20,000 retail. The piece could sell for more money on the open market, but the owner wanted to keep the painting in her family and asked me specifically to evaluate it just so she could know the truth about it and insure it. Now the truth is out.