Grant Wood at Auction: The Results

If you stopped by and read last week’s column, you’ll recall that I had been in an email dialogue with an auction house that was preparing to sell what they had first been calling an oil painting “attributed” to Grant Wood.

The painting was his famed 1931 “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” which has been on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art since the 1950s when the museum bought it from a private collector. The Met’s painting was not missing, and Grant Wood was never known to complete, sign, and date two oil paintings of the same scene, so I suspected something was afoul.

Naturally, any auction house would love to have an original Grant Wood oil painting for sale, as the last one of his regionalist landscapes that did come to auction sold for nearly $7 million dollars.

The fact that this one had a presale estimate of just $25,000-$30,000 with a reserve of $12,000 told me that even the auction house might be unconvinced it had an original Grant Wood oil painting.

After our first round of emails, the auction house changed its “attribution” description to a safer “in the manner of Grant Wood.”

Now, I never saw the framed artwork in person, and was not about to travel several hundred miles to see it, for I sensed from my research that what the auction house probably had was one of the ‘gelatone lithographs’ which the Associated American Artists gallery in New York reproduced in 1938 of at least two of Grant Wood’s paintings: Woman With Plants and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.

These high quality lithographs were produced with Grant Wood’s permission and were plainly marked as such along the bottom margin. But since the artwork in question at the auction still remained in its frame, no one could determine if the Associated American Artists copyright for the gelatone lithograph was there.

On the night of the auction I logged on and watched the sale live on my computer, interested to see what was going to happen when the artwork hit the block. I half-expected it to be withdrawn, but that didn’t happen. Instead, when the lot came up the auctioneer chose his words carefully, simply saying, and I quote him directly, “In the manner of Grant Wood, Paul Revere’s Ride, at $12,000 to open. If you like . . . Any interest? . . . . None . . . . Passed.”

That was it.

No background, no suspense, no build-up, no coaxing, no amazement, no surprise, no bids.

And no mention of the words “oil painting.”

Fortunately for everyone involved, no one was interested in bidding $12,000 for what might end up being appraised as a high-quality print, so whatever it was, it seems it will be returning to the consignor.

And we each walk away with a reminder that regardless where something is being sold, we should always do our own research, inspect it in person, and get any claims guaranteed in writing.

Until next Monday,

Have a great week!