Sometimes you get a “gift with purchase.” That’s sort of what happened to Vic Barkoski when he purchased a building in 1985. Instead of a fragrance sample, however, Barkoski acquired a large oil painting, as he explained in an email. 

“I have attached two photographs of an oil done by Durwood Dommisse in 1963,” he explained. “I acquired this large (49” by 53”) abstract titled “St. Clair” when purchasing a building in 1985. I know that Mr. Dommisse was a senior art student at the Cranbrook School of Art when it was painted. He later became a more prominent landscape artist with paintings hanging in U.S. Embassies around the world. I don’t know much more about him and would like to know its value.”

Bob DuMouchelle of DuMouchelles helped him on both fronts, taking a look at the large canvas at a recent appraisal session held at the downtown gallery and auction house. Barkoski filled him in on a few more background details.

“I bought the building, which was in Dearborn Heights, and this had been hanging in the foyer,” he explained. “The building was furnished and this was left there. It hung there until two years ago when I sold the building. I always liked it, but since then it has been in storage because we didn’t have a wall that was large enough.”

The artist name and the work’s title, “St. Clair,” are listed on the back of the work, which features moody tones of gray and black. “The original owner said it depicted a freighter in a storm on Lake St. Clair,” Barkoski added.

DuMouchelle said he thought  at first that the work depicted the “St. Clair,” a freighter that traveled the Great Lakes, but that further research showed that wasn’t possible. “This was done in 1963, and the “St. Clair” wasn’t launched until 1975, so that rules that idea out,” he added.

“The artist was born in 1938 and is still alive,” DuMouchelle added. “His newer work is nothing like this, however.”

“A lot of artists were painting in this style at the time and went in this direction, although this is not what he is known for,” DuMouchelle explained. “He now paints a more traditional landscape. I couldn’t find anything like this in his other work and nothing like this has come to auction.”

When it comes to appraisal of a student work, the value lies in whether that artist became well known over time, DuMouchelle says. “An unproven style can be a disadvantage.”

“This is not a mainstream work for this artist, but he is well known and this style has become quite popular today,” the appraiser added. “This style of abstract work compliments mid-century modern furniture, which is also very hot in today’s marketplace.”

For that reason, he valued the work at $1,000-$3,000 at auction, saying “We do well with works like this and are looking for pieces like this to sell.”

Barkoski was surprised – and decided to put it up for sale. “It sold for $1,100 at auction,” he wrote in a later email. “I was very pleased since it sat in my basement for the last two years.”

About this item

Item: Oil on canvas

Owned by: Vic Barkoski

Appraised by: Bob DuMouchelle

Estimated value: $1,000-$3,000


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