Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Power of the Portrait

As an art appraiser I am often asked to appraise portrait paintings. What's so interesting about portraiture is its ability to capture the very essence of a person, a time-period, and even an entire society.

At the turn of the 20th century, American portrait painters held a unique position in depicting American culture. Artists like John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, and William Merritt Chase established themselves as American master painters – capturing portraits of the political and industrialist elite. With images of Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, and novelist Henry James, artists like John Singer Sargent depicted influential figures as icons of American progress. Bringing their European academic training to the U.S., these artists presented to the international art world that American society was bridging Old World traditions with a uniquely American experience.

Patrons of commissioned portraits had always played a significant role in supporting the long-held tradition of portraiture. European nobility, aristocrats, and the wealthy bourgeois had helped sustain the genre of painting for hundreds of years. During the Gilded Age of the 1880s, a new American industrialist elite used the tradition of portraiture to portray themselves as symbols of worldly power and strength. East Coast artist were commissioned to present such individuals as the figureheads of American culture.

Not only the wealthy gave patronage to the realm of early portraiture. Limning portraits were often commissioned by working-class families. These commissions by second-tier artists were less refined than the works of Sargent or Chase. Although these examples did not have the same level of aesthetic precision, technique, or refinement -- they were significant in representing all facets of the American experience.

On the West Coast, painters including Belle Baranceanu, Nicholas Brigante, Sueo Serisawa, Boris Deutsch, William Hesthal, Anton Refregier, continued the heritage of figurative painting, but used it in a modern way in order to make a social commentary. Francis De Erdely, a Hungarian √©migr√©, who became one of California’s most notable modernists painted portraits in Europe, Detroit, and finally Los Angeles during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

Francis De Erdely almost always painted figurative subjects, a genre not often associated with modernism. Francis De Erdely’s portraits were painted not out of nostalgia for the past, but as a reflection of the human condition on the West Coast of California. Francis De Erdely created some of the most striking figurative paintings in American art and his work remains poignant today.

Portrait and figurative painting continues to exist as an unparalleled genre of painting which serves as a compelling and accomplished articulation of the human experience. A portrait reveals a time, a place, and an individual. A successful portrait by a skilled artist reveals a uniquely intimate moment between an artist and sitter – one that is pure, unguarded, and candid.
(©2009 Alissa J. Anderson. All Rights Reserved. None of the contents of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanic, photocopy, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of Anderson Shea Art Appraisals, and the appraiser’s signature.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009


(Once a month Alissa Anderson does an online art appraisal for one of our readers. Submit your art.)

Another Man’s Treasure

Is the painting you unearthed during spring-cleaning, the next Jackson Pollock? If you’ve seen Antiques Roadshow on PBS, you know digging around in your garage might just be the next great treasure hunt.

What makes art valuable? The answer is this: it depends. Value depends upon many things including the artist, the condition of the object, art market trends, and whether the artwork is sold at a gallery or auction. An art appraiser also has to consider authenticity, provenance, and style.

So when we asked our readers to submit a piece of art for an online appraisal, we discovered something exciting. Our Santa Barbara art collector inherited a painting from her mother, who spent many years in Claremont, California. She didn’t know much more that that. As an art appraiser, my first big clue was a signature and a date identifying it as painting by one of California’s watercolorists, Milford Zornes. Zornes began painting during the Great Depression, alongside Southern California artists Millard Sheets, Rex Brandt, George Post, among others. During the 1930s, the group formed the California Style of watercolor painting as an inexpensive alternative to oils. Watercolors and paper also enabled impoverished artists to transport their materials easily and paint on site.

As an art appraiser specializing in California art, I was able to discover that “Farm House” was painted in 1953 and depicts a scene from then-rural Riverside with the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains in the background. Demonstrating Zornes’s unique variation on the Watercolor Style, he utilizes large, swift brushstrokes and stark, unpainted negative space. Zornes lived to be 100 years old and painted almost all his life. He is widely regarded in the art world and his paintings are widely collected, making “Farm House” a desirable artwork. 

At auction this painting would be estimated to sell between $3,000-$5,000. A treasure indeed. . . 

Please submit your painting, drawing, or sculpture for next month’s ART FIND. To be considered, mail a photo and brief description to: artsappraiser@gmail.com

©2009 Alissa J. Anderson, Santa Barbara, California. All Rights Reserved. None of the contents of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanic, photocopy, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of Anderson Shea Art Appraisals, and the appraiser’s signature.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to Find an Art Appraiser

People often ask me: "How do I find a qualified art appraiser?"

When it comes to finding a qualified art appraiser, there are few VERY important things to keep in mind. Like in any field, do your research.

From a qualified art appraiser based in Santa Barbara, California here are some useful tips:

1. First and foremost, an art appraiser should be a member of one of the 3 appraisal associations (AAA, ISA, ASA). These associations regulate their appraisers by enforcing ethics and principles of appraising. Associations also require their art appraisers to be tested under The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice.

2. Make sure your art appraiser has taken (USPAP), a test required for appraisers in all disciplines and ensures that appraisers are aware of generally accepted standards for professional appraisal practice in North America. USPAP is regulated by Congress under The Appraisal Foundation.

3. An art appraiser worth hiring also has a formal arts education and has expertise in the art market. He/she is highly trained and should have a degree in art history, appraisal studies, connoisseurship, theory, ethics, and procedures of art appraising.

4. Art appraisers should have a specialty in your type of personal property (fine art, prints, 19th century American paintings, California art, etc.) and years of experience. Obtaining a copy of the prospective appraiser's resume and references is strongly suggested. They often list these on their websites.

5. Qualified art appraisers are professionals. They are essential to protecting art collectors, museums, artists, and investors. Appraisals are used by insurance companies, bankers, lawyers, and accountants to protect assets. So get your art appraised, and make sure it's by a professional.

Appraisers Association of America, 212-889-5404

American Society of Appraisers, 800-272-8258

International Society of Appraisers, 888-472-4732