Trash or Treasure: Paris a popular painting subject

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News
Beverly Smith with her painting, which features the Parisian neighborhood of  Montmartre.

“Paris is always a good idea,” Audrey Hepburn reputedly once said. One of the most popular and romantic of the world’s cities, Paris has earned an honored spot not only in art and literature but also in our collective imagination. Travelers to Montmartre today will still find the city’s infamous street painters selling their images near Sacre Coeur and depictions of the city have long been favored souvenirs from a trip abroad.

Beverly Smith recently brought an image of the City of Light to an appraisal session at the Michigan Design Center in Troy where Brian Thomczek examined it more closely. She didn’t bring hers back from a world tour or recent trip, and told  the appraiser that she found the oil on canvas a little closer to home. “I found it at the Salvation Army late last year,” she said. “I think I paid about $8. I am a senior citizen, so I get a discount.”

She added that she was intrigued with the image when she saw it, but was a bit discouraged by the amount of dirt on the piece, an image of Paris. “The signature looks like it says Villon,” she told the appraiser.

Thomczek agreed that piece does indeed appear to be signed “Villon” in the lower right, adding that it’s an image of the Montmartre neighborhood in Paris, one of the most painted parts of the city. Smith said she had done some online research and wondered if the work could be by French painter Jacques Villon, who lived from 1875 until 1963.

Thomczek said it’s possible, but difficult to know for sure. Jacques Villon’s real name was Gaston Duchamp, brother to Marcel. He moved to Montmartre in 1894, where he changed his name and began to study art. His early years were in graphic arts, but he later studied at the city’s Academie Julian and produced some paintings in a neo-Impressionist style; by 1910 he had devoted himself primarily to painting.

An internet search revealed other paintings of the city by artists named “Villon,” making it hard to know for sure who painted Smith’s oil on canvas.

 “I found others like this when I looked online but none that looked exactly like this one,” Smith told Thomczek.

The appraiser said the work looks like it has been relined and reframed, possibly in the 1960s or 1970s. It also is sorely in need of a good cleaning, he told her, recommending she take it to Ken Katz of Conservation and Museum Services ( in downtown Detroit if she intends to keep it.  “It has a lot of surface dirt,” he told her. “If cleaned the colors would really pop.”

Smith says she thinks the image is beautiful but would like to identify the artist before deciding what to do with it. “If it was worth something I might sell it,” she added.

Thomczek said even as a vintage work by an unknown artist, the subject matter is popular and the piece is worth $250-$300. “It’s definitely worth more than what you paid for it,” he told Smith. “You did 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: Paris oil on canvas

Owned by: Beverly Smith

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: $250-$300 and up