WINSLOW HOMER, ART, MONEY AND FAKE OR FORTUNE?

The BBC repeat of Fake or Fortune, with Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce, produced another little gem, with the story of the discovery of a Winslow Homer at The Antique’s Roadshow in 2008, perhaps the greatest American watercolourist, and its valuation at £30,000. Then the journey to prove its provenance in England, America and the Bahamas, its restoration and re-valuation, at close to quarter of a million dollars, but the stepping in at the New York Southeby’s sale of the original owners, the Murrays, right at the eleventh hour. It was highly dramatic, proved Philip Mould’s toughness, but now the ownership has been disputed for over two years.

There were some strange ellisions in the tale of why the original owners had showed no acknowledgement of a painting though, or theft either, in Southeby’s original due dilligance investigations. Family letters clearly proved the family had been one time owners, yet what they did not prove was how the painting, and drawings of relations too, got on a rubbish tip, if crime had been involved, or they had perhaps been given away, sold, or discarded in some folder. Surely the fact that an unframed and then rather grubby sketch had been with other sketches, suggests it had been in a folder, and so never hung illustriously on the walls of the ancestral home, Myrtle Grove, despite the family’s mounting passion for art.

To me it was particularly telling though when the young scion of the Murray family, Simon, and a former barrister and now lawyer, spoke on camera about his supposed sympathy for the family who found it on a rubbish tip, their natural disappointment that it was suddenly wanted back, now its true value had been flagged in the Telegraph, and how the finders were obviously thinking of the money in terms of ‘swimming pools or cars’. Oh those awful, greedy, ignorant and unartistic working classes! Actually what you saw were some rather nice people, four great kids and, despite an admittance of knowing nothing about art from the daughter, Selina, a rather moving sequence involving a charming American curator and her emotional response to one of Homer’s big sea paintings. Beyond the power of money, that is always the true value of art, how it speaks. That sea tussle, swept up in wilder forces, became her personal story, by natural association, and then the bigger story of a tug of war now underway, across the classes.

The sale was stopped, perhaps rather sadly for Selina, if she could have shared 30% of the sale. But Phoenix Ark would like to offer an enlightened solution. Why don’t both the finders and the original owners offer the painting to a major American Museum, brokered by the BBC, and split the proceeds 50/50, because it probably would not even be around if the finder had not gone on his fishing trip. Then honour would be served, money shared for swimming pools, cars, children’s education, or the upkeep of said Myrtle Grove. But above all the truer purpose of art would be served. People would actually get to see the damn thing, not have it languishing in some safe, so enjoy it and its rather strange story too, and America would have one of its favourite sons come proudly home. A truly democratic solution. We know, it will never happen!

The image is a wikepedia photo of Winsolw Homer

8 Comments

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8 responses to “WINSLOW HOMER, ART, MONEY AND FAKE OR FORTUNE?

  1. Pitwall

    What do you expect when dealing with rich lawyers? They have no morals. Simon Murray is a lying cheat.

    • paulette

      I do not understand Sothebys accepting the watercolor from Fiona to sell and then holding it in their possession when they did not sell it. I think they should have returned it to Fiona if they did not believe she was the rightful owner. Why did they become they judge of the truth? Could it be the money that they so greedily want when it is sold?

  2. Mimi

    At no time were the “descendants” ever able to prove this painting was in the posession of the family. Sure, they have provenence that it was painted, but there was no indication that it was eitherr given to the family by Homer, or commissioned or bought for that matter. There seems to be some missing links in their story. If it was “stolen” then why was it never reported? They cannot prove it was owned by the family and I find it hard to believe it was ever theirs to begin with. If it was thrown out, they clearly didn’t now what they had, which would be their own ignorance. What ever happened to posession is 99.9% of the law? What a shame! This painting belongs to the family that found it at the dump!

  3. paulette

    What has happened in the Winslow Homer/Simon Murray watercolor situation? I agree whole heartedly with your article. Please send me some information!!!! Thank you in advance.

  4. Anthony

    As a man once said “the law is an ass”! Simon came across as a very unsympathetic and patronizing character. Without any poof of theft the painting should clearly go to the finder. Probably won’t but it should. Pity the law of treasurer trove doesn’t apply as it was introduced to cover exactly this type of situation where either dishonesty or destruction were the previous options as opposed to a fair value going to the finder. I wish Selina evry success.

  5. brianoh

    Ah yes, a highly valued piece of memorabilia never on display and perhaps thrown out and never stolen and now reclaimed as their precious family heirloom – methinks.

  6. Patrick

    well said
    while watching the show my wife said to me 50/50, and was also affronted by the condescension of the descendant

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