By Danielle Arnet The Intelligent Collector

WHAT: An early oil-on-canvas portrait of young Mary Margaret Deuel of Dutchess County, New York, recently sold for $391,500 at a furniture, folk art sale and American silverware at Christie’s.

The 30-inch by 24-inch painting became the first batch of the sale in part because it was produced by Ammi Phillips (1778-1865), an itinerant and probably self-taught painter who worked on the edge of the then border . But there is more to the story.

AFTER: Today, Phillips is recognized as the most accomplished among the early traveling painters. His works, when they hit the market, fetch record prices. And he was not without talent.

In this very seductive portrait, the composition is impeccable. Mary is realistic, not stiff. Notice how she looks directly at the viewer as she holds a bunch of strawberries. Her red shoes and the padded stool add color.

SMART COLLECTORS ARE: Before the advent of photography, the very wealthy could afford established portrait painters to paint their portraits. The nobility and the well-to-do held seances by itinerant men (like Phillips) who traveled individual routes. They were also called limners. The families who lived in the area knew when the artist might be expected, then housed and fed them while they worked.

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HOT TIP: The paint was new to the market, and it’s irresistible to bidders. Held in the Deuel family until 1982, it belonged to only one “foreigner”.

BOTTOM LINE: The portrait is a rock star. As a fine example of the genre, and made by the premier traveling artist of its day, it hits all the right notes right down to the berries and the red shoes. What’s not to like?


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