1847 James Henry Beard Oil Painting, "The Illustrious Guest"

Value (2008) | $300,000 Auction$500,000 Auction

My great-great- great-grandfather purchased the painting originally in Cincinnati. My grandmother always thought it was a George Caleb Bingham painting, and then we had it appraised, and he told us that it was not by Bingham. He identified the artist as James Henry Beard.

And there was a title of it?

Uh, The Illustrious Guest.

Exactly. Well, the guest here is Henry Clay. He's the man in the center. And James Beard painted this in 1847 in Cincinnati. Clay was the senator from Kentucky and was probably the most recognizable politician of the 19th century, next to Abraham Lincoln. He ran for president several times and lost and was certainly well-known. And he shows up here in a tavern at an inn, and we see what's going on here. There's all sorts of incidents in this sort of American 19th-century genre painting. From starting over here, you see the people in the back at the tavern... people here. There's a little bartender and some jars and bottles and a little glass here. Then, here's our main character, our illustrious guest. He's sitting here reading the paper, and he still has his long traveling coat on here that trails down below. Then there's a lot of curious gawkers. They know they have a famous guy here, so we start seeing things like they're checking out his cane to see what the initials are. And then there's something clever that Beard did, was he put in his name here on the guest register. J.H. Beard. Then below it, we have H. Clay. And so, these guys are scrutinizing the guest list and looking and then checking to see if this is really him. Then all the way over on the end, you have the womenfolk and children. We have one child in here, but they're sort of looking on because this is the tavern and you aren't supposed to have the women in the tavern. And then, you see his traveling bags, one of these what we would call a carpetbag. Have you ever had it appraised?

It was appraised in, what, 1969 for $20,000.

Okay, well, it's interesting. Beard is not a first-tier artist, so he's not that well-known. And in fact, he's know really more for doing paintings with dogs in them. And the high-water mark at auction for him is about $25,000, so you really have a ceiling. But when you get a painting such as this that's really important and really involved, an important piece of Americana, you have to throw those records out. If we were to put this into an auction-- I talked to my colleagues, and we said we'd probably at least put an auction estimate on this of $300,000 to $500,000.

Oh, my gosh! Really?

And we were speculating, things like this that have had estimates like that have gone into the seven figures when they go to auction because people just go crazy over them because they haven't seen anything like this at auction.

Wow! Wow!

It's an important piece of American history. This could hang in a museum. It is great to see it in here.

Thank you. What can I say? Wow.

Appraisal Details

Bonhams, NY
New York, NY
Appraised value (2008)
$300,000 Auction$500,000 Auction
Dallas, TX (June 28, 2008)
July 15, 2009: In this segment, appraiser Alan Fausel examines "The Illustrious Guest," an 1847 oil painting by James Henry Beard depicting American statesman Henry Clay. After the episode aired, the owner placed the painting on long-term loan to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, where it is currently on display.

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