Thursday, January 30, 2014


Yesterday's excitement was our attempt to secure this picture

at auction in NY. We failed. The link is to the auctioneer's page. As you can see – as long as they leave the page up – the estimate was absurd. We were 99 44/100's percent sure (are you old enough to remember those Ivory Soap ads, during the war?) that it was painted ipsissima manu by My Husband's Artist (henceforward, MHA).

[I don't mean to be coy – but I don't want anyone who googles the artist's name, or my husband's, to pitch up here. This little corner of cyberspace is reserved for Us Chickens.]

The picture has been “whereabouts unknown” since the late 19th century. But in his as-yet-unpublished magnum opus, by husband describes it ad unguem: the composition, the size, the colour of the woman's dress. It could still, theoretically, be a copy, but it doesn't look like one, on-screen. There is a sort of inertness to a copy which even I can recognise most of the time.

We knew we'd have to outbid the people who could see that it was, in my husband's phrase, a “bloody good picture”, and then the ones who thought it might really be an MHA. We underestimated the financial stamina of the latter contingent. We thought the precision of our knowledge would carry the day.

But we tried. We took Alexander's advice and bid as high as we could – so at least we aren't left feeling this morning that we could have pushed a little harder.

When they got back to CT last night, tired and dispirited, my sister wrote a lively account of the event, which we will print out and preserve for posterity. We had at least four serious competitors.

So – that was Wednesday. At least we don't have to worry and fuss about shipping (let alone pay for it). It will be interesting to see if anyone writes to my husband in the next couple of months, seeking advice on this picture.

So – knitting. 33 scallops done, of 50, on the final side of the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl. I'm getting there.

And I paid the income tax, with some difficulty, and ordered a belt for my husband from L L Bean, with some more. So it wasn't entirely a wasted day.


  1. So sorry you didn't manage to secure that wonderful picture.

  2. Wow! I wish you had succeeded - that is something rather special (especially for those of us who are bibliomaniacs!)

  3. How disappointing. But as you say, at least you don't now have to pay for it! It is a lovely picture.

  4. That was exciting! But too bad about having four serious competitors with loads of money.

    Are we going to get to read your sister's account?

  5. Oh gosh, how nerve-wracking it must have been. Sorry to hear you didn't get the picture :-(

  6. skeindalous4:19 PM

    I wish I were educated enough to be able to identify the artist, but, alas, not so.
    Have just finished an excellent novel, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, that revolves about a bombed, stolen, rescued, cherished, and finally released exquisite painting. The life of the boy who feels he owns this piece is totally changed by his connection with the painting. Recommended.

  7. I would love to read your sister's account. It sounds exciting despite it ending in disappointment. On the other hand, I can't imagine insurance on a painting like that costs.

  8. I sat next to a painting on a transatlantic flight once. A man from a Swedish museum was taking it to the US. I'm intrigued with your tale (and hope we might hear more). It occurred to me recently that we technically could buy something big (if we were unconcerned with retirement, that is) and wondered about a painting. Do you insure it and display it at home? Keep it safe in a vault and never see it? Rhetorical questions, obviously, in case art thieves are reading!

  9. So much excitement! Thanks for sharing the story, Jean. Such a beautiful piece. And I am intrigued by your husband's work...I'm a newer reader so I feel there's so many stories to hear from you!