Monday, May 3, 2010

Stuart's "Astor" is demoted to "Gentleman" ! (trickery in the world of art?)


On May 9 2009 I posted an entry on Stuart's portrait of John Jacob Astor, about to be autioned at Soetheby's, with an estimated fetching price of only $75,000-$100,000 ("For a trifling sum of money)".

It turns out that the identification of this particular sitter as an "Astor" was done without the blessings of the professionals. The above portrait was identifed as John Jacob Astor "based only" on its similarity to another existant portrait of Mr. Astor! It seems to me that Soetheby's is supposed to check out the authenticity of each piece that comes under its hammer, and in fact perhaps that is what happened in this case. This "Portrait of a Gentleman", which the above portrait is now more humbly termed, is now once again up for grabs at auction, but at a much more modest price.

Explanation courtesy of Soetheby's;


This portrait by Gilbert Stuart had been previously identified as a portrait of John Jacob Astor, the first multimillionaire in American history. Gilbert Stuart was commissioned to paint Astor's portrait and according to Lawrence Park, the Gilbert Stuart scholar who published the 1926 four volume catalogue raisonné, he painted two versions (numbers 37 and 38 in Park's catalogue). Mr. Park identifies number 37 as the portrait that was purchased in 1909 through Charles Henry Hart for the collection of The Brook, a prominent men's club in New York City. Number 38 in Park is listed as the 2nd portrait of Astor, and the likeness Astor himself enjoyed. This portrait still remains in the Astor family today and was the subject of several lithographs after the painting. The present portrait was identified as a portrait of Astor based on its similarity to the portrait at The Brook. Further research at the Frick Art Library suggests that this portrait, and another portrait in the collection of the Van Cortlandt family, are both of a Mr. Badcock. The present work was formerly in the collection of a General Brigadier Badcock so it is possible that it descended in the family of the sitter.

Now, this portrait is currently only estimated to bring 40,000 - 60,000 USD.

Gee, too bad for the owners. Please NOTE here the importance of establishing a failsafe providence, or ownership history, of a Stuart portrait. This would have aided a quick determination of who the sitter is.

It should be added that a current expert on Gilbert Stuart, Ellen Miles (National Portrait Gallery), helped to rectify this minor misunderstanding.

1 comment:

emikk said...

this whole thing gives me a major Astor-roid!...if you know what I mean!

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