American Paintings and Manuscript Documents from Questroyal Fine Art
By Michael Stillman
"I discovered a dirt road that weaved through towering trees and thick brush with a sky unmarked by telephone lines. I had never seen anything like it. This was the fertile ground that fostered my young imagination, and it was visible only in the little painting that hung in my grandmother's home."
This will not be our typical catalogue review. Important American Paintings Volume X is a 10th anniversary catalogue from Questroyal Fine Art, but the focus of this site is such that we will only center on a small part of this presentation. It offers 46 extraordinary paintings from American artists, but our attention, in keeping with the mission of this site, will be on the ten manuscripts also offered. This isn't the disconnect it might appear, as books and manuscripts actually have much in common with art, as we will soon explain.
The quote above is from Louis M. Salerno, owner of the Questroyal Gallery at 903 Park Avenue in New York. Raised in the suburbs of the city, that small painting on his grandmother's wall was the doorway to a new and undiscovered land, the New World for a young Columbus. No wonder he grew up with a love of art, and particularly for American landscape art, notably The Hudson River School, which specialized in scenes reminiscent of those on his grandmother's wall. This is how books and manuscripts are similar to art. They too use our imagination to draw us into distant lands and new discoveries, albeit in a textual manner rather than a visual one. The effect is the same. Once captured, it is no wonder that collecting, be it art, books or documents, can become a lifelong passion, even obsession. The outsider may be confused. The collector understands.
One final comment about the art before moving on to the documents - these are not abstract paintings. There are no paintings that I wasn't sure of what was being depicted, or ones that left me searching for their hidden meaning. These are beautiful scenes, ones that elicit recognition and memories. I've never really understood how a great artist can paint an image that somehow both accurately reflects the scene and yet adds an emotional element that cannot be described with words. Fortunately, an explanation of the artist's ways will not be necessary, as the remainder of this review will be devoted to the ten textual documents being offered, and it is easier to describe words with words than it is to describe images.
1. A handwritten, signed transcript of America the Beautiful by the writer of its lyrics, poet Katharine Lee Bates.
2. An 1858 signed letter from John Brown, urging Franklin Sanborn, a member of the "Secret Six," to "make a common cause with me." Ironically, Brown notes that while for a long time he had a "strong desire to die," his hopes for his mission have led him to say, "I am now rather anxious to live for a few years more." He was executed the following year.