Thomas Willis Painting with Silk Work, ca. 1910
Appraised Value: $10,000 - $30,000 (2012)
IMAGE: 1 of 1
Appraisal Video: (3:45)
Decorative Arts, Folk Art, Furniture
GUEST: My great-grandfather commissioned the artist Thomas Willis to make this work of art for my great-grandmother, because her father owned tugboat companies in the New York Harbor back in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
APPRAISER: Do you know much about the artist?
GUEST: I know that he's made other paintings like this, and some of them hang in the museum down in the Mariner's Museum in Norfolk.
APPRAISER: Okay. This is an unusual work of art. It is not a traditional painting because the ships are all rendered beautifully in silk. And the artist here, Thomas Willis, was born in Connecticut in 1850 but came to New York and became a successful silk merchant. So he was selling silk and I think in about 1880 decided to become an artist. And he incorporated his knowledge of silk into his artwork. Part of what is distinctive here is the incredible detail that Willis was able to capture out of this unusual medium. The rigging of the ships is really meticulously done and very accurate. If you look here, the velvet hull of the boat, that's actually silk that's been put on to depict the spray of the water on the side of the boat.
GUEST: I didn't realize that, yeah.
APPRAISER: Here you have the velvet smokestack with a tuft of silk smoke wisping out of the smokestack. The ship in the foreground here is very unusual. It's obviously, it's a steamer, no sails. But there are two names on here, one on the flag and one on the bow of the boat, for Edward J. Berwind. Edward J. Berwind was one of the great titans of industry of that period. Berwind was a philanthropist, he was obviously very successful. He was a member of the New York Yacht Club. With a little more research, the pennants on these two boats are going to tell us more about what yachts they were. I wasn't able to find what the name of his yacht was. But I can tell you that in 1910 and that era, he was... they were throwing big parties at the Elms in Newport. They were all part of that yachting community. Now, one thing, as we were standing here, as I looked back and we were both commenting on this little red ship. I think on the side of that boat it says "Sandy Hook." Well, Sandy Hook seals the deal there. So this is New York Harbor in about 1910.
GUEST: Wow, that's really neat.
APPRAISER: And it's a phenomenal snapshot of a yacht race and what was going on in the harbor at that point.
GUEST: That's neat.
APPRAISER: Now, Thomas Willis, he was bringing more money ten years ago.
GUEST: I see.
APPRAISER: While this is a well-recognized artist, we've seen some slipping, like in a lot of parts of the field. That's sort of the bad news. Well, the good news is this is, by all accounts, by far the best surviving work by this artist. The condition here is phenomenal, it's probably its original frame. Almost every piece of silk is still in place. I think this was Thomas Willis's masterpiece. I would put an auction estimate of $10,000 to $15,000 on this work of art. But that said, if you're going to insure this picture...
APPRAISER: I would suggest an insurance value of about $30,000.
APPRAISER: It's far and away superior to any work by this artist we've seen. A wonderful work of art.
GUEST: Thank you so much. That's great. Thanks, appreciate it.
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