Treasure: Engraving based on famous painting

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

The image is of a pensive king sitting on an ornate throne, flanked by two equally ornate columns, an angel at his feet. It is framed in a heavy wooden frame.

Chris McCarthy with his etching.

The frame is original to the piece, says Megan McCarthy, who originally wrote to the column asking for more information about the family piece she inherited from her grandmother.

“I have an early 1900s piece of art that is a black-and-white of the painting 'David,'" she explained in an email. “I'm not sure if it's a lithograph or pencil, but it is still in the original frame. It comes from St. Louis, Mo., in the early 1900s. That's about all I know.”

Mallory Jamett of DuMouchelles attempted to give McCarthy’s husband, Chris, more information at a recent appraisal session held in downtown Detroit.

She identified the piece as an engraving based on a painting by French artist Gustave Moreau. A similar piece, done by the artist Felix Bracquemart in 1883, is in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art ( which includes the following information about its piece, currently off view.

“Authors Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust loved Gustave Moreau's strange, mystical paintings. His 7-foot-high King David, unveiled at the 1878 Paris World's Fair, reflected Moreau's concerns about rising secularity after the Paris uprisings of 1871. In this velvety etching, the weary king ponders his fallibility and what Moreau called "the emptiness of life." Broken flowers all around, an angel takes up David's lyre in a sign of hope. This rare impression on vellum is the print Félix Bracquemond inscribed to Moreau.”

Bracquemond lived from 1833-1914, the appraiser added. “At first I thought this was just a print, but on closer inspection, it’s an engraving.” She said that it dates to around 1900, and that it is in good condition overall. To learn more, she said it would be necessary to take the piece out of the frame and see if there are any additional writings or marks. “We would be able to look for signatures then.”

She said that the piece needs a little attention and conservation. “There is some water damage and the frame and matting needs repair,” she said. “If you were to have the work done you’d be able to look for additional clues then.”

She was glad that the piece was an engraving rather than a print. “Engraving and etchings are more time-consuming and complex processes,” she said. “With prints, you can only do so many before you lose quality.”

In its current condition, she said the piece could bring $400-$500 at auction. It might bring more if the condition were even better. A similar piece was listed in Germany for 300-400 Euros, she added.

“That makes sense as they were German,” McCarthy told the appraiser. “Now we just have to figure out what to do with it.”

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: Engraving

Owner: Megan and Chris McCarthy

Appraised by: Mallory Jamett, DuMouchelles

Estimated value: $400-$500 at auction