Earlier this month we received the sad news that John J. McMullen had passed away at the age of 87. Many in the art world knew Mr. McMullen as one of the premier Maritime art collectors; while sporting fans across the globe knew him as the once proud owner of both the Houston Astros and New Jersey Devils.
Mr. McMullen was a fascinating individual, a firm but fair negotiator, a lover of naval history and, above all, a gentleman. I had the great pleasure of meeting John McMullen in the summer of 1982, one year after I entered the art world, and for the next 16 years made numerous trips to his offices in downtown New York to show him works of art by Jacobsen, Spencer, Luny, Salmon and others … many of which were acquired for his important corporate collection.
His love of art was not only focused on views of the sea; over the years he created impressive collections of Impressionist and Western art as well. In 2002 his Western art collection was exhibited at the McMullen Museum of Art in Boston in a show titled ‘Cowboys, Indians and the Big Picture’.
His kindness and generosity will live on in the memories of all whose lives he touched … John J. McMullen – we will miss you!
We consistently receive e-mails from individuals who are researching a specific work of art in the hopes of determining its original title. While we are always happy to help people with their research, the cold hard fact is that the actual title of a particular painting is, at times, almost impossible to determine. This is especially true for those artists who never made it, as well as many well known but not well documented artists.
While artists are very creative individuals, they are not always that fastidious about creating interesting and descriptive titles for their works. Of course there are many instances where they do title a work, and if the paperwork showing the original sale from the artist is still in existence, you stand a good chance of learning what the title was. However, original paperwork from an artist rarely exists and this is where the problem arises.
Typically an artist will sell a work to, or through, a dealer who, in turn, may decide to re-title the work. You may ask: why do dealers do that? Well, artists often give generic titles to works – Floral, Landscape, Sunrise, Sunset, Two Children on a Beach, Three Children on a Beach, etc. These titles can become repetitive and make it very difficult to track the works. In order to distinguish one from another dealers often create more descriptive, unique, or romantic titles.
When I began researching the works of Julien Dupré, in one of his original dealer’s records, I noticed that among the many other artists they handled, one appeared numerous times … de Longpre (a French artist who today is associated with the 19th century American still life artists); as a matter of fact, they sold quite a few over the years. What really stuck out was that they not only appeared in large groups, but most were entered with the same generic title – Floral, or Still Life. Today, it is nearly impossible to determine which work is which … unless the original inventory numbers are still on the back of a specific work. And even then, what good would it do in terms of trying to determine the title … as most were just listed as Floral? When de Longpre works now appear on the market, they usually have more interesting and at times accurate titles. Over the years, dealers, scholars and collectors needed ways to identify individual works, and created more descriptive titles. Of course, similar, or identical, titles still do exist since there are only so many unique ways one can describe a painting that depicts a bouquet of roses, but at least they are not all know as Floral.
Years later I realized that a similar situation existed with the works of Julien Dupré. For many years it was almost impossible to determine what Dupré had originally titled a work. The closest one could get was to the title the original dealer used when they entered it into their inventory records; if they could gain access to the original dealer’s files. However, today we have Dupré’s original account book and in it, he listed all the paintings he sold along with their titles and to whom they were sold. Now you might say … wow that is great, now you can give each work its original title! Not so fast. Dupré, like many other artists, had a habit of repeating a title, or using a very similar title, numerous times. Trying to determine which work is which can be a daunting, if not impossible, task. For example: in 1904 Dupré sold four works, all titled Une Faneuse, to one dealer. In 1905 he sold another seven titled Une Faneuse to that same dealer and sold another work titled La Faneuse (a slight variation) at an exhibition. In 1906 Dupré sold five more works titled Une Faneuse -- four to the same dealer and one at an exhibition; not to mention that he used the La Faneuse title on a work as well. Since Dupré rarely dated his paintings it is going to be very difficult to determine which work is which and whether it is a La Faneuse or Une Faneuse. To complicate the matter, Dupré began using these same titles in 1879, with the last instance appearing in 1909, and never numbered the actual paintings to match the numbers in his account book. As you can see, trying to determine which Faneuse is which may be nearly impossible.
Your next question may be … what about those works that the artist gave a specific and somewhat unique title to? Even if the original dealer sold it with that title, it does not mean that the title still remains with the work. The problem is that paintings are bought and sold many times during their life and often, when they are resold, the original title is lost (unless copies of the original documents accompany the work). I have seen many instances, while researching the provenance on a specific work, where each time a painting reappeared on the market, it was given a new title … not necessarily because someone deliberately wanted to change it, but because the ‘original’ title was not known to the seller and they needed to be able to describe or inventory it.
Another problem exists when works were reproduced in books or as prints. Here, minor variations in a work’s title abound, especially when they are being translated from a foreign language. The basic reason for this is that translations of specific words can vary. For example, Daniel Ridgway Knight’s L’Appel au passeur (which literally translates to The Call to the Ferryman) has been reproduced as Hailing the Ferryman, Hailing the Ferry-man, Calling the Ferryman and The Ferryman.
So, what does this all mean? Is it really important to have the original title? Does the original title help a work’s value? While it is nice to have the original title (though you may be somewhat disappointed by its less than descriptive nature) it is not imperative. What’s really important, especially with regard to value, is that the work be authentic, in nice condition, of superior quality, and from the artist’s best periods.
More Gallery PR
Last month I mentioned that one of my older newsletters was published in the September edition of Plein Air Magazine. Well, our October 2005 edition arrived in the mail the other day and again, to my surprise, they printed another: Nothing But The Best: Choosing Wisely Among The Works You Love (compiled from a few of my very early ones).
Eugene Galien Laloue
We just acquired 12 new copies of this hard to find catalogue containing 260 pages, including 200 color, and 100 black & white plates. If you would like to purchase one, please contact the gallery.
The Oklahoma Show:
A Virtual Sampling
One of our collectors asked if we could create a small virtual exhibition on our web site, featuring the paintings our clients lent to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art for their current exhibition titled: Artist As Narrator. As the old adage goes … ask and ye shall receive!
For those of you who would be interested in seeing the eleven paintings, please visit the Virtual Exhibition area of our web site and click on the first exhibit listed under ‘Special Exhibitions’. I have even included a link to the Museum’s book shop for those of you who have not yet, and would like, to purchase a copy of the catalog.
Howard L. Rehs
© Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York – October 2005
Gallery Updates: We are back on our regular hours: Monday through Friday 10:00am – 5:30pm; all other times by appointment.
Next Month: Water … a paintings worst enemy. I will also update you on works that have come and gone and other gallery news.