Thomas Hart Benton Watercolor & Drawing, ca. 1940

Value (2008) | $30,000 Retail

GUEST:
I chose to bid on this at an auction for the purpose of raising money for our local museum. And I was fortunate enough to gain possession of this drawing.

APPRAISER:
Tell me why you liked it.

GUEST:
I love water. There's something about living and moving on the river.

APPRAISER:
We have the riverboat here and boathouse here and it very much looks like the Mississippi or the Missouri, perhaps. Thomas Hart Benton was from the Kansas City area and he spent a lot of time around the river in that area. Benton is considered one of the leaders for the Regionalist school. That is, realist painters that were painting roughly in the early to mid 20th century and they were painting the landscape, farming scenes, in the Midwest, primarily, although Benton also painted in Martha's Vineyard. He had a house in that area. He also was a muralist. Now, what you brought to us today is a watercolor and drawing. You can see that the artist probably started out with a little bit of pencil here and then he uses pen and ink and then sort of a sepia ink wash painted with a brush to highlight various elements of the piece. Although I don't believe this to be the original mat and frame, you'll see that the mat is quite old. It has an acid content, and that could cause staining or damage at some point, so you should have it reframed. We don't see a signature on the piece. There's a little bit of pencil here, and it's possible there could be the signature of Benton underneath. And so, again, it would be good to take it out of this mat so that you could see whether it's signed. But what's interesting about this piece is that it actually has provenance that seals the fact that it's by Benton. On the back of the piece, in a little envelope, there was a photograph of the piece. And if you turn it around, it's actually inscribed by the wife of another Regionalist painter, John Steuart Curry. Curry is one of the other well-known members of the group, and he and Benton were friends. And his wife is writing that Benton and Curry exchanged works of art, which artists often did, and that Curry had this in his collection and that the exchange was done around 1940. So most likely this piece was done around that time. Now, how long ago did you buy this?

GUEST:
It's been awhile. Time goes so fast. I would be embarrassed to tell you.

APPRAISER:
How much did you pay for it?

GUEST:
Five hundred dollars.

APPRAISER:
Well, of course, the market for American art has risen significantly in the last ten years, and certainly even in the last two or three years. And Benton is extremely popular as a Regionalist artist. If this piece were in a gallery, I believe that the asking price in the gallery would be $30,000.

GUEST:
Mmm, thank you for this information.

APPRAISER:
His oils can be well over a million dollars.

GUEST:
I'm just sorry I didn't buy more. (laughing)

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Debra Force Fine Art, Inc.
Debra Force Fine Art, Inc.
New York, New York
Appraised value (2008)
$30,000 Retail
Event
Chattanooga, TN (July 19, 2008)
Period
20th Century
Form
Drawing
Material
Ink, Watercolor
July 15, 2009: In this segment, appraiser Debra Force discusses a ca. 1940 watercolor by Thomas Hart Benton. After the episode aired, a viewer wrote in to say that a similar illustration appears in the 1939 limited edition of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Force reviewed the book and believes that the Benton watercolor is possibly another version of this illustration, or a study for it.

Executive producer Marsha Bemko shares her tips for getting the most out of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.

Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."

Note the date: Take note of the date the appraisal was recorded. This information appears in the upper left corner of the page, with the label "Appraised On." Values change over time according to market forces, so the current value of the item could be higher, lower, or the same as when our expert first appraised it.

Context is key: Listen carefully. Most of our experts will give appraisal values in context. For example, you'll often hear them say what an item is worth "at auction," or "retail," or "for insurance purposes" (replacement value). Retail prices are different from wholesale prices. Often an auctioneer will talk about what she knows best: the auction market. A shop owner will usually talk about what he knows best: the retail price he'd place on the object in his shop. And though there are no hard and fast rules, an object's auction price can often be half its retail value; yet for other objects, an auction price could be higher than retail. As a rule, however, retail and insurance/replacement values are about the same.

Verbal approximations: The values given by the experts on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW are considered "verbal approximations of value." Technically, an "appraisal" is a legal document, generally for insurance purposes, written by a qualified expert and paid for by the owner of the item. An appraisal usually involves an extensive amount of research to establish authenticity, provenance, composition, method of construction, and other important attributes of a particular object.

Opinion of value: As with all appraisals, the verbal approximations of value given at ROADSHOW events are our experts' opinions formed from their knowledge of antiques and collectibles, market trends, and other factors. Although our valuations are based on research and experience, opinions can, and sometimes do, vary among experts.

Appraiser affiliations: Finally, the affiliation of the appraiser may have changed since the appraisal was recorded. To see current contact information for an appraiser in the ROADSHOW Archive, click on the link below the appraiser's picture. Our Appraiser Index also contains a complete list of active ROADSHOW appraisers and their contact details and biographies.