Ignorance is bliss….at least to some sellers! Don’t let ignorance be bliss in your buying!
As buyers, we need to be super careful and think through all the things that sellers aren’t telling us, or just don’t get themselves.
Here is a quote from an ebay listing for an Edouart sold in the last day: “The young woman is a cut-and-paste. Eveything is in fine order with just a few touches of minor brown spots. They may even be a bit of wash splatter, instead of foxing, done by Edouart himself.” (Emphasis mine.) Really? Do you think Edouart would have faux aged silhouettes that he was selling as commissioned pieces? 19th century folks wanted bright new likenesses to display in their homes. Edouart used the latest home fashions in his background art (realize though that he commissioned other artists to create the background art for most of his pieces). People did not want aged pieces of new art in their home in the 1840s! Incidentally, I had previewed this particular silhouette online a few days ago and decided not to bid on it because, in my opinion, the signature does not look right. The ink is too dark, too blue-black, not faded enough. If I had seen the silhouette in person, or was interested enough to have higher resolution photos sent to me and speak to the auction house about it, I might have decided differently. But, I know that Edouart’s signature was faked a lot and I decided the silhouette was not worth pursuing. I’ve recently read a claim that Edouart sometimes used blue ink. Well, my 30+ years of experience collecting, buying and selling, inspecting museum archives, and researching Edouart and other antique silhouettes tell me that he didn’t use blue ink. Blue ink was not widely used for writing until after 1850. (There is an interesting article about the history of ink at http://www.stinkyinkshop.co.uk/blog/a-short-history-of-ink/) By 1840, Edouart’s career was sadly on the downslide. Because of the extra expense, he no longer commissioned those wonderful flat profile maple frames with a small ledge around the edge, opting, instead for a more common flat profile maple frame that he could purchase from frame-makers as he traveled. He lived mostly with friends who put him up while he resided in the multiple towns in which he worked. His sight was starting to fade. I cannot fathom that he would have spent extra money for blue ink that was not in general use for writing. The hundreds of real Edouart silhouettes that I have inspected over the years and the letters that he left historians have not contained any blue ink.
Another thing to watch out for is églomisé verre glass mats which are claimed to be original to the piece of paper artwork plus claimed to have no restoration, yet once removed from the behind the glass, the artwork has no paint stains from sticking to the paint on the reverse of the glass. Paper always sticks to early 19th century paint on the reverse of églomisé verre glass mats. Click on the photo at the left to enlarge, and see the arrows pointing to some of the larger areas of paint stuck to the paper from the glass mat. My photo also shows you how paper tones inside of the oval aperture of any mat, painted glass or otherwise. Currently an “EX RARE American Indian” by Martha Ann Honeywell is being offered for sale on ebay. It purports to be one of the very few gilt embellished silhouettes cut by Miss Honeywell–I offer no opinion on that since I can’t see it in person and do know that there are some well-done fakes of Honeywell’s gilded works riding the waves out there. It also purports that the sitter is a Native American–the sitter’s name is not totally legible but his first name is clearly “Thomas”. He wears 19th century American-styled clothes and his profile shows little or no resemblance to Native American features that I can discern. If there are any features that might be shared by Native Americans, there certainly are not enough to say, with certainty, that the sitter was Native American. As the seller states, “The frame is original to this silhouette; it is American made gilt pine and measures 41/2 x 5 1/2″ with the opening of 3 1/8 x 4″.The glass is reverse painted in red with gold and black accented cartouche. This is 100% original and nothing funny going on with it. These colors used with this design is absolutely a no-question American Indian motif. I am sure you have all seen similar designs with their blankets.” But the photos the seller shows of the unframed silhouette show no indication that any of the red paint ever stuck to the silhouette which supposedly pressed against the painted glass for some 175 years. The silhouette paper has not even toned inside the oval aperture of the painted glass mat. The images of the reverse of the glass mat show that some of the red paint has pulled off the glass mat. Where did the missing paint go, if not to the silhouette that was pressed up against the back of it? It would be highly unusual for someone in the 19th century to place something between the silhouette and the mat. But, even assuming that something was placed between the glass and the silhouette in the 19th century, where is that something that gathered the lost paint? Also, the frame, which is purported to be original to the silhouette has holes drilled into the back of all four sticks. Those holes indicate that hangers were placed to hang the frame vertically at one point and horizontally at another point. It appears that another piece of art began life behind that glass mat and the current silhouette replaced the original at a later date.
You know, we all have to make our own conclusions by weighing the evidence that we have. My conclusion is that (1) Edouart never faux-aged his silhouettes and (2) the silhouette currently offered for $4500.00 as a rare gilded silhouette by Honeywell of a Native American in an original frame with original églomisé verre glass mat may or may not be a real Honeywell but definitely did not come of age behind that glass mat and did not start life in this frame either.
Since the prices that everyone pays for things at auction are so readily provided by this seller, the Honeywell was originally from Hudson Valley Auctioneers, March 10, 2014, $375 + 20% buyers premium. You can see it at http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/24871550_silhouette-portrait-man-rev-painted-border-4-by-3-1. Indeed, you can find auction prices quite readily on the internet. All you need to do is subscribe to a few pricing websites or, in this case, an online auction service. These auction prices, of course, do not include any value added by a later seller, or any middle-seller mark-ups that add to the cost for the ultimate seller. For example, I have the added cost of conservation and restoration for the Edouart I purchased only because of the drawing on the back of the figure, only to discover that the seller glued it to the paper after taking photos of it and saying nothing about having diminished its value by gluing it down.
Postscript: The seller of the two silhouettes discussed above had now declared war on me and my silhouette business. He writes in his blog
“I will be busy monitoring her stock from now on. Everything is fair game now. Just to give you one tiny example of her lack of knowledge…. Are you familiar with this book called Silhouette: The Art of the Shadow, by Emma Rutherford (2009)? This dealer was a major contributor for its American section. She proudly illustrates a FAKE BACHE in this book as a genuine example. It is in full color taking up the entire page, or was it a double-page(?). Anyways, this is the silhouette I sold her some 6-7 years ago as a study, reference piece for $200, when I was getting $750 for genuine Bache. When I saw my old silhouette in that book, my jaws dropped. I knew she did not know much about silhouettes, but that was just too incredible. Did I say something about it to her then? Nope. But I did bring it out a few weeks ago when we had that argument.
This is just an ice-breaker. But I’m not gonna fill my blogs with this kinda stuff. This is my blog, not hers. But I will post some as time permits, especially if I see educational side of posting such material. She’s a nobody, really. Playing ukulele and singing is my first priority for this spring! Hey, but it ain’t spring yet (LOL).”
I ask only that you consider the source of this attack. He draws and offers opinions as fact with no supporting evidence; he espouses nonsensical approach to drawing and presenting conclusions; he attacks published and recognized scholars as well an most anyone he can attack with his blog. Then draw your own conclusions. I certainly do believe his threat to continue attacking me. Again, I must say that we all have to draw our own conclusions from the evidence presented to us.
As a result the attacks on me by the seller of the Honeywell silhouette, I received a very encouraging email today. With the writer’s permission, I am sharing the email with you below. I will not reveal the name of this writer, and will replace the name of the attacker with “the blog writer”.
I just want to say that I’m appalled by [the blog writer’s] childish and unseemly response to your criticism of his “Native American” silhouette. There are several reasons why I personally questioned this item. Ironically my skepticism is based, in part, on knowledge gleaned from reading his blog.
Anyone who is serious about silhouettes or any art form should welcome critical feedback. Our country has a glorious history of art criticism and if [the blog writer] believes that his items are unassailable, then he’s sadly mistaken. Given just how caustic he is when criticizing others, I find it pathetic that he would be so injured by criticism of his inventory.
I believe that [the blog writer’s] judgment is being seriously compromised by his desire to make $4,500. Thank you for challenging his “expertise” with regard to this item.
I sincerely thank the writer for being kind enough to send me this email which uplifted my spirits in the midst of these attacks. I have always welcomed open debate about any subject as long as it is backed by evidence and not mean-spirited. Evidence is required for any new opinion to be taken as “fact”. Math requires proof of new theorem, science requires proof of new hypotheses, a civil legal matter requires proof to a preponderance of the evidence, and a criminal legal matters requires proof “beyond reasonable doubt”. One needs evidence (proof) to advance any theory as anything other than a theory or opinion. That is really how scholarship advances–and it does advance everyday in everyway.
Thank you again dear writer!
Another Post Script: I see that the ebay seller has changed his listing on the Honeywell silhouette to admit that the frame with glass mat and the silhouette may not have started life together:
“I am in no way saying that this silhouette is original to this frame, but the frame and glass are period 1840 and from the time of this Honeywell’s silhouette. Is this man an American Indian? I’ve never met the dude so I don’t know. He could be.”
I posted this as a teaching tool, which it has been. While I’m being bashed by the seller (who bashes just about everyone), I hope that I’ve given you all some understanding of what we need to look for in all things that we buy to ascertain the difference between what may be and what is fact. Everyone has opinions about authenticity. The key is that we present these opinions as opinions and not as fact.