A bucolic painting

One of the reasons I enjoy writing for the Vermont Journal/Shopper is the freedom they give me to write about anything that strikes my fancy. Such is the case this week.

Artworks that are signed enable you to look up a sales record for a particular artist. Unsigned paintings require an “eye” and experience to determine their value.

In my collection is a watercolor painting of a farmer in his barnyard feeding two young calves from a milk pail. I have owned it for some time. It’s one of those paintings that makes me smile when I look at it. What more could you want from a painting?

It measures about 18 x 24 inches sight size and would date to about 1910-1930, and is unsigned. The frame is gold leaf and original to the painting. I found it in the attic of a local generational home. Whoever the artist was he/she was quite accomplished. The colors are excellent but most important the painting captures the rural character of the time.

It’s a watercolor painting with gouache accents. Gouache is the white area you see in the farmer’s shirt, the calves and the spilled milk on the ground. The red barn and old shed create a pleasant background. Everything about this painting is well done. The artist had an eye for detail and color.

Bucolic watercolor painting unsigned circa 1920. Photo provided.

The young calves appear to be Ayrshires. In the early 20th century Ayrshires were a common cow in Vermont. The Ayrshire was bred in Scotland some time before 1800 and imported to this country about 1822. Farmers in Vermont needed a dairy cow that could graze the rocky pastures of their rough, hillside farms and tolerate our cold, hard winters. The climate and landscape in Vermont was similar to the Ayrshire’s native Scotland. The Ayrshire thrived in her new home.

Here is some information I found online: “During the early part of the Twentieth Century, Ayrshires were noted for their extremely good type. Old photographs of Ayrshire cattle confirm this fact. To demonstrate their hardiness, the Ayrshire Breeders’ Association staged one of the most spectacular promotional events ever conducted by a dairy breed registry association. In 1929, two Ayrshire cows named Tomboy and Alice were literally walked from the association headquarters at Brandon, Vermont, to the National Dairy Show at St. Louis, Missouri. Both cows not only survived the trip, but calved normally and went on to produce outstanding milk records of the time.”

My advice in buying paintings: be careful buying works by important artists as these are the paintings most often faked. A good analogy would be, no one fakes a one dollar bill as there would be no profit. But $20 bills are counterfeited quite often. You may have noticed when buying an item in a store the cashier testing your bill with a special marker to make sure it’s real.

Sometimes a faker will take an old unsigned painting and add the signature of a well-known artist. You’ll hear the unscrupulous dealer say, “If you like it, buy it.” I wouldn’t consider this good advice but a sales tactic.

So where should you buy paintings? A long established auction house or art dealer with an excellent reputation should be your choice. Yes, you might pay more but as one of my mentors told me years ago, “If all you have to apologize for is the price, it’ll sell.”

Instead of an old saying I offer a true and humorous story. In the 1980s Bob Harris of Windsor, Vermont was the Windsor County senator. During this time Bob started attending a lot of auctions at Bill Smith’s auction-house, across the river in Plainfield, N.H.

As a casual observer Bob thought auctions were an easy way to make money. After all, you sell someone else’s property and charge a healthy commission. So Bob got his auctioneer’s license. With his connections in Montpelier he soon found an estate up Bethel way that needed to be settled.

Bob not really knowing the procedure asked Bill Smith to go with him. At the home Bob took over as the woman led them throughout the home. The woman sensed Bob wasn’t too sure of himself and asked how long he had been in business.

Bob turned to Bill and asked, “How long have you been in business?” Bill replied, “32 years.”

Bob turned back to the woman and said, “Between the two of us we have 32 years.” Spoken like a true politician.

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