In late August I was in Hammondsport,NY and ducked inside an antique shop to get out of the rain. Killing time I walked around and noticed this painting hanging near the entrance. It was in a god-awful frame of cheap pine, the glass was all dusty, and my first thought was,"Andrew Weth print-badly framed.". After a turn around the shop I came back to the print. I'm always interested in anything Andrew Wyeth.
To my surprise the 'print' looked like an actual watercolor. I couldn't find a signature. The price was $50. I asked the lady working the desk if she had any information about the painting. She said the shop was a co-op and it wasn't one of her pieces - but I could take it outside in the better light if I wanted to examine it. I declined. The rain had stopped and the Hammondsport Square was filled for the Palette Auction. I walked out.
After the auction my friends wanted to browse so we ended up back inside the antique shop. I pointed the painting out to them and said it was done in the 'style' of Wyeth, but it was unsigned. They encouraged me to buy the painting, saying even if it wasn't an actual Wyeth, it's still a nice watercolor. I hesitated. The style certainly looked like him: drybrush for the shrubs, fingernail dragged through darks, outstanding draftmanship...but the composition was bad. What was that white shape in front of the boat? A log? A bank of snow? And there was no signature. I know from my reading that Betsy had Andrew sign EVERYTHING, and his watercolors were usually signed "A.Wyeth" in pencil. Maybe there was a signature on the back of the painting? Stranger things had happened...heck they found a copy of The Declaration of Independence behind an old photo. You never know....
So I bought it. When I got home I took it apart to examine it closer. The paper was old. It had been taped off for a border. It was an original watercolor. There was nothing on the back, and no signature on the front. Hmmm...the size bugged me too. I knew Andy liked to paint on full-sized sheets, even when painting plein-aire. There are pictures of him walking around with 22x30s tucked under his arm. This painting is 15x19, an odd size.
So the painting sat for two months. My Mom noticed it on a visit and asked if I'd painted it. (Thanks Mom!) I half-thought about contacting The Brandywine Museum to see what they had to say. Life goes on though and I never got around to photographing it. Then a couple of weeks ago I was photographing some paintings and pulled it out. I took some digitals, wrote a quick email and sent it off to the Brandywine Museum, pretty much addressed: "To whom it may concern, or (whoever is interested). This is what I wrote:
"Hello, I was wondering who I would contact to find out if this is an original Andrew Wyeth? I bought the painting in a Hammondsport, NY antique shop. It is an unsigned original watercolor on older wc paper 15x19. The painting is smaller with a border approx. 11x15.5. Any help would be appreciated. Thank You, Jeff Perrault"
Then I went for a run.
Of course while running I played out various scenarios: the kids getting their college education paid for by an old, forgotten Wyeth, no answer at all and i live with the mystery. My favorite scenario was somebody at the museum asking to see the painting in person, and me getting my picture taken with Betsy. When I got back from my run - no emails. Oh well.
Then at about dinner time I noticed an email from Mary Landa, and I must admit my pulse rate went up. Mary Landa is Betsy's personal assistant, and the one most knowledgeable about Andrew's paintings, (besides Betsy of course). She was there when Andrew revealed the Helga paintings to Betsy. She's the one putting the Catalogue Raisonne together. Apparently my email had been read, the attachments looked at, and it had been bumped up to the top. It was a definite "Holy Shit" moment. Here's the email:
"Forward: Mary, What do you think? LoraLora B. Englehart
Public Relations Coordinator"
and then: "Dear Mr. Perrault,This is a lovely little watercolor, but there is nothing to indicate it is by Andrew Wyeth. Wyeth’s records were quite complete and just about everything out there that was sold had a signature.
Thank you for sending this – I wish I could help track down the artist. Mary Landa"
Darn! Double Darn! But hey, it is a "lovely,little watercolor" very skillfully done. It was way underpriced. I'll give it a decent frame and a home. (Still would have liked to have my pic taken with Betsy, though.)