Fraud, Reproduction, or Find of the Century?
Now before you simply dismiss this week’s column as “just another of my Grant Wood stories,” bear with me, for there is something to be learned from what I am about to relate.
As I was continuing my research into Grant Wood’s 19 lithographs he completed between 1937 and his early death in 1942 from pancreatic cancer, I came across a current auction house listing for an oil painting “attributed” to Grant Wood.
It was his famed “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” which has hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art since not long after Wood’s death. The pre-sale estimate the auction company had put on their “attributed” Grant Wood oil painting was $25,000 – $30,000.
Now the regionalist oil paintings that Grant Wood completed almost all reside in major museums, and the last that came to auction eight years ago sold for nearly $7,000,000 dollars, so I had to wonder what this auction house had.
Naturally, I asked.
It was, they insisted, an oil painting bearing the printed signature of Grant Wood and the date 1931. Just like the one in the Met.
“Could this be a reproduction?” I cautiously asked, after pointing out that the Met was not missing theirs.
No, they insisted, it is an oil painting. But they were listing it as “attributed” to Grant Wood since they weren’t sure about it. Their hope was that he, like some artists, had painted “several copies of a work to refine the one that they show.”
Grant Wood never did. His preliminary sketches were done in pencil or charcoal, never in oil, which I politely pointed out to them. What they had, I ventured in my next email, was either a reproduction or a fraud, neither of which would be worth $25,000 – $30,000.
But if I was wrong, I added, and what they had was authentic, then they had just hit the art world’s version of the lottery, and should be prepared to find a line of art collectors, museum curators, and newspaper reporters outside their door any minute now.
They looked. No line outside their door.
So, what have they got?
In 1938 the Associated American Artists gallery in New York, the same gallery that published and sold Wood’s lithographs via mail order, had contracted a lithography firm to print a limited edition, generally 1000, of a few of Grant Wood’s oil paintings. They advertised their prints as “gelatone lithographs,” claiming that they were virtually indistinguishable from the originals, but were marked as such in the margin to avoid confusion.
A different seller, I also pointed out to the auction house, has one of these gelatone lithographs of Wood’s “Woman With Plants” for sale on eBay, one which Grant Wood had written in pencil on the margin “Approved Grant Wood.” The asking price is $4400. One without Wood’s penciled approval is also for sale for $1900. Neither has gotten a single bid.
I also found in my research a photograph taken in the 1950s of a school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with the students holding their newly gifted Grant Wood “gelatone lithograph.”
The title on their reproduction print: “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”
So, what’s the auction house planning to do?
In their last email to me they were going to change the description from “attributed” to Grant Wood to “in the manner of Grant Wood.”
Until next Monday,
PS – Check back next week and I’ll let you know what happens at the auction.
Top picture courtesy of wikipedia.com.
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