Finding a Match
Assisting with art authentication requires extensive research. And plenty of patience.
Case in point: A collector sought my help to verify a painting attributed to Frank Duveneck that was acquired at auction. The collector believed my insight as an artist and an avid fan of Duveneck could assist in determining the painting's authenticity. The painting's provenance was largely missing, and only the writing on the back of the canvas provided evidence of its supposed origin. Painted on the verso:
by Frank Duveneck
The presence of a verifiable history not only adds immediate value but also has the potential to increase in value over time. However, this particular auction lot lacked such a history.
Anonymity is often preferred when selling artwork by auction because it preserves individual privacy and enables institutions to discreetly sell off unneeded collection items. It can also help sellers avoid potential family conflicts over the distribution of inherited assets or the embarrassment of financial debt.
From what I was able to uncover, the painting came to auction from a private collection in New Canaan, Connecticut. The owner was liquidating their collection. The same collector consigned several works in that sale, including works by Gustave Jacquet and Hermann Herzog.
FRANK DUVENECK’S LATER YEARS
Frank Duveneck (1848 - 1919) was a prominent American painter and teacher who had a significant influence on many artists of the time. At one point, his name was internationally known in American painting. By the end of the 20th century, however, his reputation was all but obscured. At the height of his career, he stopped competing in expositions and actively seeking commissions. Most authors speculate that the death of his wife in 1888 was so thoroughly disorienting to Duveneck that he no longer craved his pursuit as a professional artist.
During the later part of his life, he spent summers visiting his son in Boston and teaching art classes in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He played a major role in transforming Gloucester into an art colony, and attracting other major American painters to work there. He encouraged his students to paint outdoors and to focus on capturing the effects of light and atmosphere on the landscape, which became hallmarks of the American Impressionist style. Duveneck’s role in luring painters to this spot has been largely passed over, despite the extensive scholarly literature on his work. Over a period of nearly twenty Gloucester Summers, Duveneck produced about one hundred impressionistic Gloucester paintings. Interestingly, he did not publicly exhibit these works or put them up for sale, and he continued to execute portrait commissions. Because many Duveneck artworks produced during this time stayed in private hands and evaded the public eye, it proved difficult for me to find evidence of similar works to compare to the painting in question.
My ongoing research over several years yielded few clues. I had little to compare this painting that could point it to the region or the time period or, in fact, the artist. I wanted to find out about the work Duveneck was producing in the early 1900’s; to to find examples of paintings unquestionably painted by Duveneck’s hand that were painted in this region and during this time.
The portrait painting of Ruth Maurer was examined by Dr. Julie Aronson, Curator of American Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings at the Cincinnati Art Museum to see if she could recognize the hand of the artist in the painting. She deemed it "quite plausible" that it was a Duveneck but not conclusively so.
Then, a breakthrough came to me by way of my email inbox.
Just as the trail was seemingly growing cold, I received a Google alert email, pointing me to a Pinterest page featuring a Duveneck painting that closely resembled the one owned by my client, enough to grab my attention immediately.
A full-length portrait of a young woman, the painting sits in the collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum in the New England region; the same region Duveneck was known to have painted and visited during his later years. It was painted just 5 years before the Maurer painting.
Aside from the pose, I found similarities in the treatment of sheer fabric over the arms, the use of a fan as a prop, the hands and the treatment of the face.
Since then, additional paintings have surfaced through deeper, more directed research.
Although the evidence is not conclusive, the case is developing. Further investigation is underway.