There is nothing like being grabbed by a piece of art. It happened to me on a recent trip to Paris, when I was visiting the flea market (and admittedly playing a game of hide and seek with one very famous French actress – she was hiding and we were all seeking!). Once I got over that excitement, I walked by a booth and literally stopped in my tracks, captivated by a little jewel of a painting that glowed with warmth.
I talked to the vendor about it and, although the signature was mostly indecipherable, he thought it might be a Charles Euphrasie Kuwasseg, an accomplished 19th century artist (1802-1877), who often signed his name with the moniker “fils” to distinguish himself from his father, a landscape painter from Austria.
When I got home, my love for the painting grew, and I became fascinated with its provenance. I wasn’t familiar with Kuwasseg, and so I acquainted myself with his work, and quickly deduced that my painting could not have been his. Compared to the loosely painted little jewel that I’d found among the fleas, Kuwasseg’s published work seemed much more refined, representational and earlier 19th Century. There were some palette similarities, as my painting also glows in the light, but the brush strokes and composition were completely different.
I also felt that Kuwasseg was a greater master of form, with a lifelike rendition of the landscape, versus my artist who was much freer and even prone to stylistic inconsistencies. Even in his late life, as seen from the painting above, Kuwasseg’s painting still has the perfectionist quality of the pre-Impressionists, for as my painting captures the rushed immediacy that comes from painting in plein-air.
As I was going through images and comparing styles and signatures, I came across some paintings by one of my favorite artists, Eugene Boudin, whom I have written about in the past. (I grew up with a Boudin poster in my bedroom and I have always loved his romantic beach scenes with stormy skies.) As I studied Boudin’s work, especially his sketches of seaside scenes, I had that exciting momentary feeling of familiarity, and a pounding heart that took my breath away. OMG! Could it be? Would this not be the irony of ironies, that I accidentally bought a Boudin, one of my favorite artists, while being told it was a Kuwasseg? Is this the treasure that we all hope to find in our attics, the proverbial Picasso that mysteriously disappeared from circulation a hundred years ago?
As much as I’d like to think it, I feel, sadly, that it is not – or at least not signed by Boudin – as there is no resemblance at all in the signatures. But stylistically, I think my painting is much more reminiscent of the looser, freer Boudin than the classically trained, and possibly trapped, Kuwasseg himself.
So what does this mean? Should I contact a museum curator to help me find the real artist? Is my painting even from the 19th century, or is it a more recent creation? If I really want to know more, I probably need to have it cleaned professionally, because it has certainly gathered its share of dust and grime over the years . But cleaning it will lose its charm. As we say in our biz, the beauty is in the patina. And since the beauty is also in the eye of the beholder, what difference does it make if this is a “real” or a fake? It still grabs me every time I look at it, and that’s all that counts.
PS: We love finding treasures at our French markets. Here are some others that have reached out and grabbed us along the way!
Do you love to treasure hunt? Then come with us on one of our shopping trips. Our March trip is full but we do have some openings for the fall. Join us! If you love the thrill of the hunt as much as we do, you’ll love every minute.