Tips of the Trade
Pennsylvania Impressionists: Valued at Last
More paintings by Pennsylvania Impressionists are appearing on the market.
Baum and other Pennsylvania Impressionists often painted winter scenes.
Each Pennsylvania Impressionist had his own style.
Pennsylvania Impressionists painted outside the state as well.
Most artists live poor, and painter Edward Redfield certainly qualified—but he was also resourceful. Legend has it that Redfield, who painted most of his canvases in the first half of the 20th century, would set up a large target near his home on the banks of the Delaware River. Coal barges would float by, and invariably, the men on board couldn't seem to resist lobbing chunks of coal to try and hit the target by. After the sailors had had their fun, Redfield would gather up all the attempts and bring them home to heat his house.
More on the Pennsylvania Impressionist school, a group of painters who gathered in the New Hope, Pennsylvania, area at the beginning of the 20th century
So it's no small irony that Redfield's paintings and those done by others of so-called Pennsylvania Impressionist school—a group of painters who gathered in the New Hope, Pennsylvania, area at the beginning of the 20th century—would sell for as much as an entire barge-full of coal today.
"This is one of the hottest and most keenly followed areas in American art right now," says Alasdair Nichol, senior vice president at Freeman's, Philadelphia, America's oldest auction house. "A lot of collectors are very passionate about this area." We asked Alasdair to educate those interested in the Pennsylvania Impressionists, sometimes also called the Bucks County Impressionists or the New Hope School, and provide some advice about collecting their paintings. Here's what he told us.
Who They Were
In 1898, Redfield and another artist, William L. Lathrop, both came to Bucks County, located about 40 miles northeast of Philadelphia. Their presence attracted a small cadre of other Impressionists in the early 1900s. Among the painters attracted to the area were Daniel Garber, an influential teacher; Walter Baum, one of the most prolific painters in the region; and Fern Coppedge, the leading woman painter in the group.
Since the 1880s, the Impressionist style had been taken up by a host of American painters, including Mary Cassatt, J. Alden Weir, Theodore Robinson and John Twachtman. Like them, Redfield and the Pennsylvania Impressionists painted landscapes using the short brush strokes, bold colors, and a devotion to the plein-air style that was characteristic of all Impressionists. Redfield, one of the most popular painters of his day, sometimes strapped his canvas to a tree on windy days, even blustery winter ones, and often finishing his paintings in a single sitting.
"The New Hope Impressionists are not distinguished by their style as much as the landscape they lived in and painted," Alasdair says. "They were not known for still-lifes or paintings of people. They had a strong connection to New Hope and the Delaware River. They painted the barns and hills and valleys in the area. Frequently they did winter scenes."
By 1915, the New Hope Pennsylvania area was a full-blown Impressionist art colony, although perhaps less known than other regional Impressionist groups, such as those in Cos Cob, Old Lyme, and Connecticut; Brown County, Indiana; and California coastal communities such as Laguna Beach. All that changed in the 1980s, when collectors began looking anew at the New Hope Impressionists—and dramatically bidding up their value.
"I see their resurgence as redressing an imbalance in the marketplace," Alasdair explains. "A lot of the American Impressionists such as Childe Hassam and William Merritt Chase were becoming so expensive that collectors looked around and saw the Pennsylvania Impressionists and said, 'These are pretty good,' and they started latching on to them. I think these collectors found a group of painters who could stand up well against these other artists."
Increased demand through the 1990s has only driven prices higher. A Redfield painting, Spring at Point Pleasant, sold at auction for $68,500 in 1994. In 2000, the same painting sold for $358,000. One Redfield and one Garber painting have each cracked the half-million-dollar milestone. Paintings by Bucks County Impressionists such as John Folinsbee and Kenneth Nunamaker, which once sold for a few thousand dollars, now land well into the five-figure range, Alasdair notes.
Still, Alasdair says that if buyers use patience and intelligence, they can still get a Bucks County Impressionist painting for under $10,000, even under $5,000. "Many of these paintings are still relatively affordable," he says.
Whom to Choose
To land affordable examples of New Hope Impressionists, Alasdair recommends collectors stay away from the stars in the group, such as Redfield and Garber. That still leaves a lot of painters in a broad price range to choose from, including Baum, Coppedge, Folinsbee, Nunamaker, Lathrop, as well as Clarence Johnson, Roy C. Nuse, M. Elizabeth Price, Charles Rosen, Harry Leith-Ross, Walter Elmer Schofield, Henry Bayley Snell, George Sotter and Robert Spencer.
Baum, for example, was extremely prolific (his wife reportedly sent him out to paint each day to make sure he could earn enough to support his family) and produced over 5,000 paintings during his career. "Now, that can be a bit of a problem because his work is also very variable," Alasdair says. "And when you have artists who are prolific and variable, it can quite often lead to fakes." Alasdair says that the vast majority of authentic Baums, however, which include many fine paintings, sell for under $10,000. Alasdair estimated a lovely winter barn scene by Baum that appeared at the Seattle ANTIQUES ROADSHOW in the summer of 2002 to be worth from $4,000 to $6,000.
"Go to the auctions, go to the galleries, study the artist you are considering buying," Alasdair recommends. "There is no substitute for handling the work and seeing it. Then compare prices. What everybody wants is something in original condition in an original frame. That's the ideal. People won't pay as much for something that's been restored or damaged."
Impressions Outside Pennsylvania
If you like the work of a particular painter in this school, but you are not attached to the New Hope area, you can find less expensive examples of other locations these artists painted. Redfield spent many summers in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, for example, and the paintings he did there generally are less expensive than his Pennsylvania canvases. The same is true of the earlier landscapes Redfield did in France, and the same is generally true of what Coppedge did in Gloucester, Massachusetts, or Schofield on the south coast of England.
If you don't mind veering from oil paintings, the medium usually used by these painters, you can also save some money. Later paintings by Antonio Martino, for example, routinely sell for under $5,000, and if you like his watercolors, they are even less expensive. Avoiding paintings that still have their original frames, especially valuable original frames done by Frederick Harer or his apprentice Bernard Badura, can also trim a few thousand dollars off a sales price. Another way to save money? Alasdair's final recommendation: "Avoid the popular snow scenes."
For more on Pennsylvania Impressionism, see:
Pennsylvania Impressionism, by Brian H. Peterson, 2002.
James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Tips from the Paintings & Drawings category:
A Real Andy Warhol? (Honolulu, 2007)
A Lost Little Picasso (Philadelphia, 2007)
Inside "Outsider Art" (Tucson, 2007)
"So Is It a Buttersworth?" (Actually, No.) (Tampa, 2006)
Hopkins Watercolor: Was the Guest Right? (Portland, 2005)
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.