In a series of Sunday, Providence Journal articles in 1891 Providence artist Charles Walter Stetson (1858 - 1911) agonized over establishing the “true” value of a painting and today the debate still rages on. Are you collecting for an investment or for the beauty of the object or both? What is your budget? What about that red wall? Every buyer believes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder but what are the limits for acquiring that object of desire?
In this section Bert Gallery comments on the many factors at play when it comes to the price of a picture - artistic accomplishments, auction prices, art trends, subject matter, medium and provenance. I hope that the Price of a Picture gives you insight into strategies of evaluating a purchase of a work of art.
Blanche Lazzell vs. Eliza Gardiner
Blanche Lazzell (1878 - 1956)
Medium: Color Woodcut
$20,000 - $80,000
Born in Maidsville, West Virginia, Blanche Lazzell became a leading figure in color-woodblock printmaking in a geometric, Cubist influenced style. She is most associated with the art colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts where she belonged to the Provincetown Print Makers founded in 1915.
Lazzell studied at West Virginia University and by 1905, had earned three university degrees, highly unusual for a woman of that time. In 1908, she entered the Art Students League in New York as a pupil of William Merritt Chase, and in 1912, she studied in Paris at the Academie Moderne with Charles Guerin, a modernist, anti-academic teacher. She returned to Paris in 1923 and 1924 and studied with Fernand Leger, Andre Lhote, and Albert Gleizes. From 1923 to 1930, she exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris.
By 1915, she had established her studio in the art colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and became a leading personality, especially known for her woodblocks. During the 1930s, she was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) artist, completing a set of prints depicting her family life at Morgantown, West Virginia.Source: Jules and Nancy Heller, North American Women Artists
Eliza Gardiner (1871 - 1955)
Medium: Color Woodcut
$500 - $2,000
Eliza Gardiner is among the most significant artists to emerge from Rhode Island. This native Rhode Islander’s fame is a result of her pioneer work in block printing. She was one of the first American artists to achieve national recognition in the medium of color block printing. It was not only her technical ability which won such acclaim, but also her special interest in studies of children at play or people on holiday. In her work she was able to communicate a simple, direct statement with a serenity of feeling.
Eliza Gardiner was a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design and taught there for 30 years. The wood block prints of Eliza Gardiner are represented in museum collections both in the United States and abroad. She exhibited these block prints at the American Wood Block shows in Chicago, New York and the Philadelphia Academy. She was represented in the International Print Show at Uffizi Gallery in Florence, at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, 1928, the International Society of Print Makers in California, The Springfield Public Library, Detroit Institute of Art, The Philadelphia Print Club and the Rhode Island School of Design. She was a member of the Providence Art Club, The Providence Water Color Club and The California Print Maker’s Society. She also exhibited in Paris LOC in 1944, the Art Institute at Chicago and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
An artist must be evaluated on more attributes than just their auction record. There are some artists who are sold primarily in the gallery market and looking only to auction prices is deceptive. The artists’ exhibition history and artistic training must be likewise evaluated. If you want to draw a parallel to the stock market a blue chip stock would be an artist who scores high on all variables: auction record, gallery sales, exhibition and museum history, productivity and artistic training. A penny stock would be an artist who on some variables scores high and others low. There are certainly no guarantees, only attributes of an artist that you should be aware of when purchasing an artwork. What an informed buyer needs to decide first and foremost is “do you like the painting.” If so, then you review the artist from all aspects to understand the “real” value of your purchase.
Specific Comparison: Blanche Lazzell has done very well in the auction market ($200 - $500,000) as well as the private gallery sales market. This has been a relatively recent development in the last two decades.
Eliza Gardiner is no match compared to Lazzell for sales in either the auction or private gallery arena. Generally, Gardiner has had a much more active gallery market ($500 - $1,200) and a recent 2010 Winter Skinner’s Auction saw a steep rise in the artists’ auction sales now matching the private sales of $500 - $2,000.
Lazzell has had a significant exhibition history but so has Gardiner along with excellent artistic training and a very productive artistic career. Where Lazzell stands out is not only her early production of color woodcuts in America but also her incorporation of the modern elements she was exposed to earlier in her European training. Eliza Gardiner shares a love for woodcuts very early on in her career but her traditional subject matter of landscapes and the sensitive portrayal of children have not garnered critical attention.
When taking all of these factors into consideration the tremendous void between prices of Lazzell and Gardiner prices is hard to understand. The recent rise in auction prices of Gardiner prints in the auction market may forecast that buyers are taking notice of her talent and consider her a good value in the color woodblock market.