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Trash or Treasure: Chagall piece vintage advertising

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

“It’s been in plastic wrap in a closet,” John Ouellette explained to appraiser Brian Thomczek at a recent Trash or Treasure session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy. “I wondered if it might be worth something.”

He shared more details about the item in question in his original email asking for an appraisal. “I have a print about 10 x 13 of two women with a chicken with a red head and red dots… on top it says Kunsthaus Zurich. On the bottom in green letters is Chagall, under that is Dezember 1950 - Januar 1951. In the very bottom of the print (it) is signed either Nate or Kate Chagall and there's something else but (I) can't read it. It was in our house when we bought it twenty years ago.”

Marc Chagall, of course, is the noted “French-Russian artist whose work anticipated the dream-like imagery of Surrealism,” according to artnet.com. Also according to the site, he was born Moishe Shagal in 1887 to a Hasidic Jewish family and later studied in both St. Petersburg and Paris, where he became a member of the French avant-garde. Chagall was also “a notably prolific artist,” according to artprice.com, “completing many décor commissions, and exploring every technique of graphic art, including gouache, ink, watercolour, pastel, collage, copper etching and lithography.” He also worked in painting and stained glass; examples are in museums around the world. He died in France in 1985.

John Ouellette

Ouellette found the piece inside a closet in his house in Fraser when he purchased it, he informed the appraiser. Thomczek found some similar works online and said that the piece appears to be advertising for a 1950s museum exhibition, hence the reference to Kunsthaus Zurich, a well-known Swiss institution. “These were probably put all over the place at the time,” he said, adding that it could have been a souvenir of a trip to Switzerland or part of an exhibition catalog.

While large posters can be valuable and collectible, Thomczek said that there isn’t as much demand for smaller pieces such as Ouellette’s, which he said qualify as ephemera and only bring about $20 at auction. “If this were a real Chagall print, it could bring a lot of money,” he said, adding “they go into the thousands.”

That said, the graphics are appealing, he said, and it’s worth having it framed if Ouellette likes it or has plans to keep it. “If it appeals to you, it’s worth framing with acid-free paper and matting and hanging on the wall. Just be careful when you’re taking it apart as it’s probably fairly fragile.”

Ouellette isn’t sure what he’ll do with it now that he knows what it is -- and what it isn’t.

Thomczek said it doesn’t take much room to store it if he wants to postpone the decision. “Put it back in the closet and wait another 20 years and it might be worth more,” he said.

trashortreas@aol.com

About this item

Item: Exhibition advertising

Owned by:John Ouellette

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: approx.. $20