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Intriguing Salvation Army find needs more research

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Blame it on the falcons. The impressive birds are what caught David Parow’s eye at a Salvation Army about three years ago in a large, 29½ by 23-inch painting and why he paid $50 to bring it home. “I told my wife it had falcons in it and that’s why I liked it,” he explained to appraiser Brian Thomczek at a recent appraisal session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy.

Unfortunately for the avid treasure hunter, his wife’s reaction was not particularly positive. “She said, ‘Good. Why don’t you put it in the basement?’ ” he added with a laugh. Since purchasing it, Parow has been curious about whether the work was original, and whether it was a print or an actual painting, part of the reason he contacted Trash or Treasure. “I did some internet research and I think it might be the work of an artist named Eugene Fromentin,” he said.

According to the exhaustive site, the French painter was heavily influenced by George Delacroix and was born at La Rochelle in 1820. “Fromentin was one of the earliest pictorial interpreters of Algeria, having been able, while quite young, to visit the land and people that suggested the subjects of most of his works, and to store his memory as well as his portfolio with the picturesque and characteristic details of North African life. ... In 1852 he paid a second visit to Algeria, accompanying an archaeological mission, and then completed that minute study of the scenery of the country and of the habits of its people which enabled him to give to his after-work the realistic accuracy that comes from intimate knowledge.”

Fromentin died in 1876. Parow’s image of turbaned riders on horseback might be a North African hunting scene — falcon hunts are still done in North Africa and the Middle East the appraiser told Parow — and fits into the artist’s existing subject matter and genre. Looking at the work more carefully through a loupe, he confirmed that the work is indeed an oil, not a print. “If it was a print you would be able to see a lot of small dots,” he explained to Parow and to the other curious onlookers at the recent appraisal session. “It looks like there might be something that sort of looks a signature in the lower corner but it’s really hard to tell and not easy to read. I’ve seen Fromentin’s signature and it’s usually pretty prominent, usually in the lower right or the lower left.”

Unfortunately, it also looks like the work hung in a smoky room, with evidence of damage throughout. “If you intend to keep it, you probably would want to give it a thorough cleaning,” he added. And smoke isn’t the only condition issue. “The canvas is mounted on cardboard, which is a bit odd,” Thomczek said. “It’s glued down, which really doesn’t help. It looks to me like it was reframed at some point. If you’re really lucky, a cleaning might find something under the cardboard or beneath the frame, including a signature, but it’s a time- intensive and painstaking process.”

Because of the lingering questions, he appraised it at approximately $200-$400 at auction, saying that it would probably be listed as “attributed to Fromentin.” Auction sales for Fromentin’s work have varied, he says, with some bringing $700-$900 and more. “If you can confirm the painter, it could bring a lot more.”

The appraiser said the painting was clearly done by an artist of quality. “Whoever did it clearly knew what they were doing. For $50, you did really well.”

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 cardboard

Owned by: David Parow

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: $200-$400 at up at auction