Treasure: Sunny outlook for ‘The Beach’ watercolor

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

This time of year, almost anything with the word “beach” in it has an almost instant appeal. Ed McHale of Grosse Pointe Woods recently brought in a small watercolor signed “Berresford” that had everyone at the Troy appraisal session dreaming of warm weather, sun and sand.

“I was given this watercolor ‘The Beach’ by a friend of my parents,” he explained in his email to the column asking for assistance. “He was a neighbor to my parents on Churchill St. in Detroit as a young man around 1943-1943. He recently lived in St. Clair Shores. He gave me the painting around 2010 along with some ceramic art pieces. A watercolor “Florida Storm” by Virginia Berresford was acquired by the Detroit Museum in 1936…attached are two files with images of the painting and enlargement of the signature and the information on the cardboard backing that the watercolor is set on. This includes the title and the number 32 set in a square. I wondered if that was a date of the painting. I appreciate any information you can provide.”

Appraiser Brian Thomczek took a closer look at the piece, which measures 6-by-18 inches and is signed in pencil on the lower left, at a recent session held in Troy. He identified the artist as Virginia Berresford, who, according to, lived from 1902-1995, and “was a Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts painter, printmaker and gallery owner working in a modernist style related to that of Georgia O’Keeffe. She also worked in Paris, France. She studied under Charles Martin at Columbia University, and at the Art Students League and Academie Moderne in Paris. She exhibited at the Bernheim Gallery, Paris, France; The New Gallery, New York City, the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, the World’s Fair 1939; the Pennsylvania Academy, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Salons of America. Her works are in the collection of the Whitney Museum; Detroit Museum; and Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts.”

The DIA’s piece is known as “Florida Storm,” and it was the museum’s 49th acquisition in 1936, McHale said. The appraiser said it’s good that the piece is by a known artist but it would be more valuable if it were in a different medium. “Oils are preferred by collectors over watercolors, generally,” he told McHale. “They also generally bring a higher price.”

He said the piece would command at least $200-$300 at auction, maybe more on the East Coast, where Berresford worked.

He said the frame was probably original but may not be the best container for the watercolor going forward. “If you want to keep this and have it last, I’d get it professionally framed with acid-free materials. There is already some discoloration and foxing starting to show. Unfortunately, these deteriorate quickly.”

McHale said he’s always liked the work and thinks he’ll keep it, so he may consider investing in restoration and new framing. Thomczek said it’s well worth preserving.

“It’s a really nice scene,” he added. “I really wish I was on that beach right about now.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.


this item

Item: Watercolor

Owner: Ed McHale, Grosse Pointe Woods

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: $200-$300 at auction, maybe more