Watching Concept Auction: The Guy with the Fly

The guy with the fly

Would you like to see a fly resting on your shirt? Probably not. Think again.

Americana continues to perform well at auctions, and today was no exception. Estimated at $300 to $600, we had a hunch this portrait of a young man with a fly on his shirt would bring much more. It closed at $4,000 plus premium. (All phone lines were occupied with phone bidders for this particular lot.)  This charming painting, unsigned and on cardboard, seemed to have everything buyers look for in American folk art. The fact that the portraiture was painted rather plain and flat while the fly was rendered in a trompe l’oeil illusion only makes the whole image more mysterious and intriguing. I’ll be looking for it to re-appear in a major show sometime soon.

The gem part of the White collection is the still life paintings. The results show that the connoisseurship, more than the artists’ fame, played a vital role in the still life market. Lot 72, an unsigned still life of peach and pear, exemplify the pre-raphaelite influence  in American still life.  In a vague natural setting, the balanced composition and a curious arrangement of fruits attracts a lot of bidders who were stunned by its lush colors. Estimated between $150 to $300, it was sold for $1200 plus premium.

Lot 72, an unsinged still life was sold for $1200

While Bryan Chapin, from Fall River School, was perhaps the best known still life painters offered  in the sale, most of his paintings did not bring sensational results. It indicates except a few exceptions (such as Severin Roesen, Peales, George Henry Hall, William Mason Brown, Levi Wells Prentice,  and Robert Spear Dunning), the majority of the 19th century American still life painters do not command a premium for their works: It is essentially the quality of the artworks that determines the final hammer price in auctions.

Another observation about the still life paintings from the sale is that the traditional realistic style dominates in this genre. I personally do admire works by Emil Carlsen or LaFarge, but the necessity of visually conforming forms and colors with human appetite makes it natural that buyers are inclined to favor those they can see if not eat. One such example is lot 95, a still life painting of Grapes, Pear, and Plum by a contemporary Indian artist Jaggu Prasad. The photo-realistic precision with a lean composition ( juxtaposition, overlaying of fruits without a tabletop as if everything is floating out of the paper) attracted many bids. It was sold to an internet bidder for as much as three times of its high estimation.

Check with Concept Art Gallery with detailed result.

About UAA Team

Urban Art and Antiques first published in 2007. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, let us know. Email urbanartantiques (at)


In a still life painting, it can indicate the brevity of beauty–ripe fruit, flowers. Perhaps here this fellow may have passed and it indicates a short life. They could have used a butterfly, but it wouldn’t have done as well at auction 150 years later.

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