Trash or Treasure: Artwork purchased from Diego Rivera
It’s not a statement you hear every day. “My grandfather bought it for my grandmother from Diego Rivera,” James Coulter told appraiser Richard Fedorowicz of downtown’s DuMouchelles Auction House and Art Gallery. “It was an anniversary gift but she didn’t think it was appropriate. They were divorced a few years later, so it sat in the basement. My mother ended up with it.”
He went on to say that his father displayed it in his office at the J.L. Hudson Co., where he was an executive until he died in 1969 and that it eventually passed to him in 2007. “The story is that he paid $50 for it and that my grandfather met Rivera when he was working on the murals here,” he explained to the appraiser.
He also said initially he thought the subject matter in the 11 3/8 by 18 ½ inch work was related to the Detroit murals, but that he later discovered there was a mural in San Francisco with similar steel workers, so he decided it may also be related to that work. “Rivera wasn’t in Detroit in 1931, so he may have brought it with him for some reason.”
Fedorowicz identified the medium as ink on paper with some added pencil. It’s signed on the lower right and dated ’31, presumably for 1931,” he said. “The signature is light, they are usually darker,” he further explained, adding that it’s signed in ink. “The signature matches up with others on his works, so there’s no reason to doubt that it’s real.” The looping in the signature matches the artist’s early work.
While he doesn’t doubt the authenticity, he said more information would only help the image in the long run. “It helps to verify the subject,” he told Coulter. “Anything you can add only helps you get a better price.” Sending it to a Rivera expert could help place it in the catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work and give it more weight.
Coulter said he showed it to the Detroit Institute of Arts and that the contact “was excited about it,” he added. “When the Frida Kahlo show was here they had some with similar lines.”
The appraiser said works by Rivera are always in demand and do well at auction, mentioning that similar works have sold $5,000-$12,000 through the years.
“How high could this go?” Fedorowicz mused as he looked more closely. “I’d estimate it anywhere from $6,000 to $9,000 to encourage bidding, knowing that if you were able to get more information it could go as high as $15,000.”
“You have all the provenance, which definitely helps,” Fedorowicz added recommended he contact Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art in New York for additional help with subject matter and authorization.
Coulter said he wished he had done the research earlier. “Shame on me for letting all his heirs slip away and not authorizing it sooner,” he said. “We are going to keep it in the family – at least for now.”
About this item
Item: Diego Rivera ink on paper
Owned by: James Coulter
Appraised by: Richard Fedorowicz, DuMouchelles
Estimated value: $6,000 and up