Skinners: An Interesting Auction

- by Bruce E. McKinney


Lot 26: Portrait of Three Children (with 3 books)

By Bruce McKinney

I’m always interested to read the Skinner Auction catalogues. Their upcoming sale on June 6th, - American Furniture & Decorative Arts – is no exception. To entice the bibliophile books appear from time to time interspersed among the antiques, antiquities, paintings and the occasional exotic memorabilia. The catalogue is, per usual, a sophisticated four color presentation. I particularly like to look for paintings that contain books because people who collect books can be starved for some visual accouterment to spice up their shelves of Shakespeare first folios, Washington letters and Washington Irving firsts. Of course it’s also possible to be visually starved with great books whose appeal is entirely personal and whose value will not set appraisers’ hearts racing. In this sale there are some interesting books, manuscripts and memorabilia and there are also three paintings that include books. Let’s consider the paintings.

First there is lot 26, a Portrait of Three Children, unsigned and estimated to date to 1835-1845. In this painting there are three books in suspiciously good condition. Librarians will instantly recognize props. It may be that this family only owned books and didn’t read them and it may be that the painter simply wished to convey intellectual acuity. If so, they succeeded. The painting was found in the Albany/Oneonta section of the Hudson River Valley area, a strange domain that does not exist in real life, only apparently in auction catalogues. Oneonta and the Hudson River have never met, and short of a cataclysm, never will. The painting is about 34 inches by 27 inches and will convey a sense of history and intelligence to any buyer who buys it to gussy up the lib. This painting is estimated $5,000 to $8,333 per book.

Next there is lot 243 that is actually two paintings each with one book. These are portraits of the Thayer Twins and are attributed to Joseph Whiting Stock who painted in New York and New England. It will help if you are related to these sisters because they can’t take their eyes off of you. In both pictures there is an outdoor tableau with water. These scenes could be anywhere so buyers in every state from Illinois east can potentially claim them as theirs. They both seem to be holding the same book and the binding looks suspiciously fresh. Poetry was popular at that time and this book might be of that type. The quality of the binding makes me wish to see the other side of the room. Good books like, deserve and usually have good company. The pair of paintings is estimated $15,000 to $25,000 per book.