1879 Edward Mitchell Bannister Oil Painting

Value (2014) | $10,000 Auction$15,000 Auction

My mother- and father-in-law were trying to furnish a second home, and this was about 40 years ago, so everything's a little sketchy, but they bought this and a couple other paintings at a flea market somewhere in the New York area. And then it stayed in this apartment. And when we dismantled it, we saw it, and we've had it and been a little curious about it from that point on. It's signed, and we looked up the name, and they just said it was a 19th-century American artist, and other than that, we really don't know.

It is American, and it's an artist called Edward Mitchell Bannister. One of the reasons he's famous, he was the first African-American artist to come to national prominence, and the first to win a national award, in fact. And he had an interesting background. He was born in New Brunswick in Canada in 1828, just shortly after the British abolished slavery in the provinces. And he'd always had an interest in drawing and painting from a young age. This is actually painted in 1879, and he died in 1901, so this is a slightly later work. It's likely to have been painted in Rhode Island, Providence, which is the town that he's most associated with. He's Canadian, but everyone thinks of him as American now.

I see.

Because that's where he settled. Sadly for him, both his parents passed away before he was 16, and his mother was a great source of encouragement to him in his artistic pursuits, and he ended up doing... he was a ship's cook for a while, he was a barber in Boston, he got involved in photography. But all this time, he was carrying on doing painting. And then he had the good fortune to meet the love of his life, who happened to be a New York City businesswoman. And following that marriage, he was able to spend more time doing what he really loved, which was painting. He had a studio. Very religious fellow, and had great empathy with nature. And because of that, he found a lot of inspiration in the Barbizon School, the French Barbizon School, who of course foreshadowed the Impressionists. And you can see the Impressionist-style painting here. It's very, very evocative. And this is fairly typical of him to be painting cattle. Not many works by him come up in the market. Now, in spite of the fact there are one or two little dents, dings, scratches, these aren't major. Probably would benefit from a frame. Bear in mind, a frame isn't just for decoration. It's also to protect a painting. So they got it at a flea market. How much do you think they would have paid for it?

Well, not much. If they paid $50 for it, I'd be really surprised.

Okay. So would it surprise you further to learn that it's worth, at auction, I would say $6,000 to $10,000?


Yeah, yeah.


His work really is very much in demand, particularly amongst collectors of African-American art.

When we were cleaning out this apartment, we came this close to tossing it in a dumpster because it was sort of like, "Huh, what's this?" It wasn't canvas, it wasn't... Yeah, so...

Whoops. Glad you didn't.

That is just incredible.

Appraisal Details

Freeman's Auctioneers
Philadelphia, PA
Update (2014)
$10,000 Auction$15,000 Auction
Appraised value (2006)
$6,000 Auction$10,000 Auction
Milwaukee, WI (July 29, 2006)
19th Century

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