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Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Very Own Antiques Roadshow Bemelmans Mystery

A couple of years ago, my brother turned me on to the documentary called "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?" The film tells the story of a chainsmoking truck driver named Teri Horton who bought an unsigned painting at a California thrift store for $5. An offhand comment from a friend has led Teri on a years-long crusade to have the painting authenticated as a Jackson Polluck, and she's claimed she will accept nothing less than $50 million to sell the painting. The documentary trots out experts from the art world that give various conflicting opinions. To date, I think she's still fighting. But still, I love stories like this and am continually fascinated by the Antiques Roadshow stories about treasure in the attic.

Anyway, I don't have $50 million on the line, but I recently happened to buy a painting that I think may be far more valuable than the $38 I paid for it. The day before Thanksgiving, I took a quick walk through Miss Pixie's since I was in the area. From across the room, I saw this piece of art hanging on their wall- a sketch/watercolor of a pensive man sitting with a glass of wine- and immediately thought to myself, "Bemelmans!"

As I've posted about here, I am a huge fan of Ludwig Bemelmans. He's best known for writing and illustrating the children's classic Madeleine, but he also wrote a series of memoris for adults that are based upon his life in the hotel industry and his travels around the world. He was also a prolific artist, providing whimsical sketches for all of his books, and even painting the murals on the wall at the Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle. Drawing restaurant life- the servers, the patrons, the little behind the scenes vingnettes- was one of his signatures.

Bemelmans's illustrations and sketches are hugely collectible. They often come up at auction at Christies, Sotheby's, and other premiere auction houses. A few years ago Antiques Roadshow valued this pair of his more ornate paintings at $17,000-$20,000. Occasionally, very small black and white sketches of his pop up on ebay. I've bid on them, but never ended up winning since they would go for $450+. A lot for a 2" x 2" pen sketch!

I saddled up to the painting at Miss Pixie's and noticed, however, that it did not bear the customary Bemelmans signature, which looks like this.

But it was signed with the initials "LB," so I didn't give up hope that perhaps this was a Ludwig Bemelmans drawing. I figured why not take a chance- it also happend to be my birthday and I decided to buy myself a little treat. I liked the painting and even if it wasn't Bemelmans, it was only $38, and nicely framed.

 I got home and did a little googling to see if Bemelmans ever signed his paintings with his initials, and if so, what the intials looked like. Which led me to the painting below (see the initials just below the horse's mouth). Jackpot! The initials look just like those on my artwork.

So, what I got is definitely a Bemelmans. The next step for me is to take it out of the frame to verify that it's an original drawing/watercolor, and not just a print. Lucky for me, my closest friend here in DC has a masters in art history and used to work at Sotheby's, so I've got an expert on hand! I've never, ever seen a Bemelmans print on the market- the only place I've seen his works reproduced is in magazines and books. And if it was a print, I would also think there would be a number on it, which there is not.

So there's my art mystery, and potentially my biggest score of thrifting. I think this just goes to show how important it is to educate yourself about artists, styles, artifacts, etc that you truly love and are drawn to. That makes it so much easier to keep an eye out at thrift stores, estate sales, etc. MoS Charlotte and I find awesome things at thrift stores all the time, but for me, this is the score of a lifetime- not only in terms of potential value, but because I've always wanted my own little piece of Bemelmans. Now to figure out where to hang him! 


Bri@Meyouandawiener said...

It also helps to have a cell with internet access. When I go thrifting and find something that is signed I start doing a Google search right away, I'm sure people look at me crazy as they walk by but it's worth it if the item you found is of value.

Whitney and the Preppy Puppy said...

Wow! What a find. I can't wait to see what you find out. And like you said, even if it's a reproduction of some sort it's still a nice picture.

Julia Denos said...

Ohhh this is so amazing. I revere Mr. Bemelmans as an illustrator. What a magical find! How you can find out more about its origins, I'm so interested!

Caroline said...

What a great story. You had your eagle eyes open that day! I, too adore LB, we named our 15 year old Madleline since I grew up loving the books and illustrations. Please keep us posted!

Bryn said...

Oh my! I grew up reading the Madeleine books and I was always so captivated by the illustrations... they were my favorite part. Congrats!!

AgathaMChristie said...

1. What an incredible find. (seriously--what more is there to say? IN-CROY-AB-LE.)

2. I love that documentary. I was spellbound watching it.

3. If you liked that, you must watch "My Kid Could Paint That."

I watched it twice in a row and couldn't tear myself from the screen.

Congratulations on your find. What a rare gift.

traci zeller designs said...

Oooohhhh, exciting! I can't wait for the rest of the story! Now I must check out that movie ...

Anonymous said...

Score!!! That kind of find makes for an awesome birthday! A very similar thing happened to me on my last birthday – I stopped into a Salvation Army on a whim and walked out with a signed Charley Harper serigraph from 1969 for $7.99. I assumed it was worth maybe a couple of hundred, but when I got home and looked it up one had recently sold on ebay for just over $500, and another was on a Harper specialty site for $900.

Pemberley said...

I will put a call into his grandson who as you recall is a very good friend of mine and ask him if he can offer some insight as to authenticity. I know I have been out of the blogging world for a awhile now, the Pemberley Collections website and physical shop has been very very busy! However, I always read my daily MoS post delivered via email!!

Sarah said...

very cool.

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