Appraisal Video: (4:44)
Paintings & Drawings
Debra Force Fine Art, Inc.
GUEST: My friend Forrest Bess gave it to me in '62. I used to work for him. He lived at a bait camp, where he sold bait fish for fishing down in Chinquapin, Texas. When I got married in '62, he gave it to me as a wedding gift.
APPRAISER: And Forrest Bess is the artist, is that right?
GUEST: Right, right.
APPRAISER: And you knew him all through the years?
GUEST: Yes, we did way back in the early '50s, and before that, I knew his mom and dad, the whole family.
APPRAISER: He must have been kind of a character.
GUEST: He was. He painted his dreams, and this is one of his dreams.
APPRAISER: He was known as a modernist, and from Texas, and his work is somewhat rare. We don't see it very often. I don't think his production was particularly heavy. He was born in 1911 in Bay City, Texas, and I believe he lived a little bit in Texas and Oklahoma. He didn't really have much art training. From what I understand, he was taught by a neighbor who lived next door. He went to college in Texas and he didn't study art, he studied Greek mythology, English, and also Darwin and Freud, who came to be important to him later on. In his early career, he was what was known as a post-impressionist, so the work would be much different than this, more like a Van Gogh- type style.
GUEST: Oh, wow.
APPRAISER: For a while he opened his own studio, but then he was, like many other artists, called to war, and he worked for the Corps of Engineers.
APPRAISER: And shortly after that time, he had some mental difficulties and he was in a veterans' hospital and actually taught some of the other patients. And then after the war, he was called back to be in charge of his family's bait company,
APPRAISER: in the late '40s, probably.
GUEST: I think he came back then, and they lived in a small house, you might say. Some people might say it was a shack, but he built onto that and built it up mainly out of driftwood that he found along the beach and stuff. In fact, the frame of this is driftwood.
APPRAISER: It's very interesting. While he was working with the bait company and throughout his life, he continued to paint and I think he also had a few students on occasion. And in the late '40s, he was discovered by a gallery owner named Betty Parsons in New York, and Betty Parsons was a very important gallery. She was very interested in the avant-garde, and when she first started her gallery in 1946, she represented Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. After they left her to go to another gallery, she continued to look for new artists, and Forrest Bess happened to be one of them. And if we look in the lower right, we see a little label, and that would probably indicate that it was in an exhibition of some sort, or in a catalog. As well, on the back we have a Betty Parsons Gallery label, and the price of $150. The title here is listed as No. 30, whereas in the artist's hand, over here on the stretcher, it says Untitled. So it's possible that Betty decided to title the piece. Now, you were saying that the artist liked to paint his dreams, and I believe he had... did he have a logbook or notes that he made?
GUEST: Yes, during the day he would take naps and you'd see him wake up and he'd write something in the book and go back to sleep, and then he would take that and put it on canvas.
APPRAISER: The other aspects of the surface that are really interesting is the heavy impasto that you see here. And he's included a little bit of silver leaf in the stars, and so that adds another dimension.
GUEST: When he'd paint, he would go out and sift builder's sand through screenwire and use that sand, mixed with his paint, to give it bulk.
APPRAISER: Oh, that's interesting, wow. Modernist works like these are very popular. Modernism in general is quite strong. If this were being sold in a gallery that specialized in 20th century, in this period, I believe that the asking price would be in the range of $75,000.
GUEST: You're kidding!
APPRAISER: No, I'm not kidding.
GUEST: I would never have believed that. That is unbelievable.
APPRAISER: We thought you'd be surprised. I...
GUEST: I'm blown out of my... it's just unbelievable.