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Treasure: Washington portrait could be the real deal

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

With the change in administrations, all things presidential have been in the public eye. Bill and Terry Wagoner of Royal Oak recently brought in an antique article that, on first glance, seems to be an image of America’s first, and still one of its best loved, presidents.

The couple purchased the 3-by-3-inch portrait about two years ago at an antique shop in Cape Ann, Massachusetts. “It was in the back of the cabinet,” Bill told appraiser Brian Thomczek at a Trash or Treasure day recently held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy. “I took it outside in the sunlight and it looked like a real portrait.”

Signed “Boze,” Wagoner believes the oil on ivory to be by Joseph Boze, a French artist who lived from 1745 to 1826 and who he says was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to do portrait work.

Thomczek took a closer look at the small piece and commented on the unique signature, which he found near the subject’s shoulder. After examining it, he proclaimed it “either a very, very good copy or authentic,” but added that he was leaning toward real.

According to the website, Boze was born in Martigues in 1745 and died in Paris in 1826. He painted portraits and pastels and showed an early talent. He was appointed under Louis XVI and made his career making portraits of several members of the court with the king. During the Revolution, he painted several members of the Third Estate and the Convention including those of Mirabeau, Robespierre and Marat. He testified at trial in favor of Marie Antoinette.

French writing and French newspaper on the back was possibly added later, Thomczek surmised. Even if the content is original, the frame dates to a later period. “The frame is not 18th century, it’s much newer, most probably early 20th century,” Thomczek says. He also says he’s not completely sure that the sitter is George Washington. “I haven’t been able to find anything for sure that indicates that’s a possibility, as his work was done in France and his subjects usually French.”

Wagoner said they paid $80, less than the $100 asking price.

“My gut instinct is that this is a 19th-century piece,” Thomczek told the couple. “I don’t really think it is 18th century but it’s definitely possible. This is the kind of piece that could benefit from further examination by a specialist. The first step would be to peel away the paper on the back and see what it reveals. Even if it’s just 19th century, it’s worth at least $300-$500, maybe more. That’s the worst case scenario and still a lot more than you paid for it.”

The couple was happy to learn more, even if they wished they knew how the portrait had ended up in the U.S. “The antique store had no idea where it came from,” Wagoner said.

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.

About this item

Item: Oil on ivory portrait

Owner: Bill and Terry Wagoner

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: $300-$500, possibly more.