Monday, January 25, 2010

Rare, old painting of N.Y. Harbor to be auctioned

BRANFORD — The old, nautical painting, donated to the James Blackstone Memorial Library many years ago by one of the town’s old families, sat for decades in storage. Then, during library renovations a few years back, it was rediscovered. The library brought in an expert to clean and restore the painting and research its origin. As it turns out, the painting proved to be a rare view of New York Harbor around 1884 by Danish-American painter Mathias Jakob Frederik Lutken, who lived from 1841 to 1905, spent the last 25 years of his life in this country and specialized in painting maritime scenes.

Now it’s being offered up to the world. It will be auctioned off Tuesday as part of a major auction of maritime art and antiques by Bonhams & Butterfield, which bills itself as “the world’s oldest and largest auctioneer of fine art and antiques still in British ownership. ”Proceeds from the sale — which Bonhams, as it is known, estimates is likely to bring $8,000 to $12,000 — will help support the libary. Douglas Armistead of The Frame Gallery in North Branford, who cleaned and restored the painting, called it “ an unusually large and impressive waterscape.

“It’s a major work by this artist,” said Armistead, who donated his services to clean and restore the painting, but will be paid a percentage upon its sale. “No one’s seen one this big — most of the other works that we know about are much smaller. This one is 31 by 49 without the frame, which is very large.”

“Anyone who is interested in the history of sail would be interested in this,” Armistead said.

“This particular view is really a time capsule because it shows four different types of watercraft: the main one is a barkentine, second is a schooner-pilot boat, the third is a cat boat, and the fourth is a sidewheeler steamboat ferry,” which “speaks to the age of steam” and sets the painting in time, he said.

The view “appears to be off the Battery, looking south toward Governor’s Island,” with “boats ... rounding the tip of Manhattan,” Armistead said. “A storm has just cleared and the water is just beautiful.”

The painting can be viewed and bid on online by navigating from Look for marine paintings and decorative arts under “Sales This Week.”

According to Armistead, who often works with the Branford Historical Society, the L�tken painting was one of 15 to 20 “that had accumulated over many years” in the Blackstone Library. “Most were sold off earlier.”

“This one, they couldn’t really tell what it was,” Armistead said. “It was so dirty and the varnish was so dark that you needed a halogen light to see it at all.”

When Library Director Kathy Reiger called Armistead in through Jane Bouley of the Branford Historical Society, “they said they wanted to do something with it. They wanted to move it along,” he said.

“I really have no idea how the library ended up with it,” said Library Director Kathy Rieger, who has been with the library for six years. “It had been in storage for many years.”

She said that proceeds from the sale would most likely go into the library’s endowment fund, although she had no idea how much it really might fetch. Initially, “we were in an area of the auction world where things had slowed down considerably,” said Armistead. But then, “we found that things had opened up a little” and he found someone interested in selling it in Gregg Dietrich, an auction house veteran and authority on maritime paintings who was putting together Tuesday’s maritime auction for Bonhams.

Dietrich said he thinks the painting has a good chance of selling. “First of all, I think it’s a beautful painting.,” he said. “While very dark, it’s beautifully painted.” The subject, New York Harbor, “always draws a lot of interest, regardless of who the painter is...because a lot of these older paintings document details” of things that no longer exist, but which still interest people, Dietrich said. Lutken “is well-known,” he said. “He has quite a few different sales records.”

But “based on the square inch, it’s a very good value ... and we have had a fair amount of interest in it,” Dietrich said. “We do have a couple of (absentee) bids on it already.”

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