Raspberry Can Be More Expensive – William Mason Brown at Cottone

Lot 153: Still life by William Mason Brown was sold at Cottone on Sept 26 for $20,500
Lot 153: Still life by William Mason Brown was sold at Cottone on Sept 26 for $20,500

A few weeks ago, I have seen a pomegranate painting by George Hall at Skinner which was sold for $6500 plus premium. Last week, a still life painting with raspberries by William Mason Brown was auctioned at Cottone with an estimation of $3000 to $5000, but eventually fetched $20,500. I just noticed another Brown’s still life paintings went unsold at James D. Julia not too long ago. This clearly indicates still life has its own market guarded by a group of connoisseur with keen eyes.

This still life is not big (6 by 10 inches) and not even on canvas. I have consulted with a conservator by sending her the pictures and description, worrying about the consequence of paper on the overall condition. She told me oil on paper is fine and  this kind of media is not standard but not unique.

Brown, competing with George Hall in New York area in the same period, was more influenced by the pre-Raphaelite style. His fruits are equally detailed, if not more, than those by Levi Well Prentice, but he can invented a harmonious world of still life setting itself (either indoor or outdoor), similar to a landscape that he was equally famous for. In this particular painting, the lush painted raspberries are being picked, highlighted by dramatic light. The grass recedes into the dark, which gives this small setting enough depth and space to imitate nature. More interestingly, Brown chose not to light the main objects but to put raspberries and the basket at the border of the brightened spot. Together with the slightly tilted surface, he created an illusion of transient beauty and momentary dynamics as if the fleeting light would soon pass those fruits and if not being “picked”, they would fall back to nature, forever forgotten.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 – 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that “his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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