Blame it on Audubon: Or how I became a fine art appraiser. Part Three
I have always loved books.
I am absolutely convinced that this is entirely due to my childhood and the fact that our mother read to us on a regular basis. We had a fair number of books including sets of encyclopedias, dictionaries, the Latin and King James versions of the Bible and a number of classics, novels and non -fiction books. I remember my older brother reading Kenneth Roberts "Northwest Passage" (the likely inspiration for our childhood games) , and Thor Heyerdahl's great ocean adventure "Kon Tiki" and many others. My mother had once worked as a salesgirl at a prep school bookstore...so that may have had something to do with it .
.... I especially loved the old illustrated books and my favorite above all others was an old copy of Dante's Inferno illustrated by the French artist Gustave Dore.
Books can become friends and in my case they have been a central factor in my life and work as an appraiser. The love of books may well be a curse and though I obtain many volumes through the benevolence of ILL ( Inter Library Loans) more often than not I find myself searching eBay and rare book sites for the elusive tome or exhibition catalogue required to correctly identify a work of art. As evidenced by the Audubon silver cup, sometimes the solution to a problem can be found in a footnote......Needless to say that buying the book rather than waiting for it from a library can get to be a bit expensive at times .
The open book shown above was published in Edinburgh in 1833. I purchased it from a German rare book dealer some years ago at a cost of several hundred dollars. The Charles Wands engraving of the John Syme portrait of Audubon and Audubon's facsimile signature on the frontpiece were used without his permission by a Scottish artist named Joseph Bartholomew Kidd (b. 1808 - d. 1889) . Kidd was hired as the illustrator of a series of small natural history books. This is the first volume and it is about parrots and has nothing to do with Audubon. Kidd used the Audubon image simply as a promotional marketing device. When he discovered this illegal "appropriation" Audubon was not pleased and ended his business association with Kidd. Audubon had hired Kidd to make a number of oil paintings of his Birds of America. (but that is another story, entirely....)
In order to understand the work of Audubon it is essential to know that the engravings and lithographs that have been made from his original watercolors have been issued in may forms and a number of editions. Original prints are scarce and can be highly valuable , but there have been a great many reproduction s made. Audubon images of birds often suffer from the fact that they are so often mass reproduced and as a result have become vastly popular. This familiarity isn't based on any intense understanding or appreciation but only the fact that the images can be found everywhere. As a result many people own Audubon images of one kind or another......
When it was publicized that the small East Central Florida art museum was to present an exhibition of classic and original Audubon artworks, the response was excellent, however there were a great many people who contacted us not only seeking details about the forthcoming show ,but more frequently wanting to know about the authenticity and monetary values of their Audubon prints.
At first I attempted to answer the public's questions but as we had an ever increasing amount of requests for monetary values and authentications. I soon realized that I needed to bring in a true Audubon print expert. First to give a public lecture about collecting Audubon artwork and second to conduct a "hands on" Antiques Roadshow type of Appraisal Day for Audubon collectors and other interested parties...........I contacted Don Boarman the Curator at the John James Audubon Museum in Henderson, Kentucky and he immediately suggested the Chicago based Audubon print expert dealer who he had worked with for many years..........
Mr. Joel Oppenheimer..
Needles to say, ....I made the call.
End Part Three