To a woman from Bucksport, it was an old painting hanging on a wall of a young girl holding her hair. It had been in her house for decades — in the family, longer still. Its age was showing and it needed some cleaning, so much so that the signature painted by the artist himself was no longer legible.
But to an art restorationist, and then an art appraiser, it was much more than just another painting.
The client went to Joyce Greco, owner of Renaissance Fine Art Restoration on Bucksport’s Main Street, about three weeks ago to have the 1935 painting cleaned up and to see what it might be worth, Greco said. Greco suspected that the painting by French impressionist Francois Gall. An appraiser in Thomaston verified Greco’s suspicion.
The owner had no idea.
Though born in Hungary, Gall was a French impressionist heavily influenced by Edgar Degas, one of the fathers of impressionism. Born in 1912, Gall settled in Paris in 1936, befriending many prominent artists of the time, including Pablo Picasso and becoming a French citizen in 1942. Gall painted or sketched more than 2,300 works before his death in Paris in 1987, according to the website artnet.com, which tracks art auctions around the world.
The untitled Gall painting will be sold at auction at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries in Thomaston in late February, with an initial asking price of $2,000 to $4,000, said John Bottero, a vice president, appraiser and auctioneer at the auction hall.
The Gall painting, a small oil on canvas portrait, is probably one of the artist’s lesser valued works, Bottero said.
“Other works bring much more [money] when they are of a complicated subject matter — multiple people or scenes. This was a much simpler portrait of a girl,” Bottero said. “Those types of things are much lower on the scale of desirability.”
Greco called the painting a pretty exciting and unique thing for her to come across. Her client, whom she declined to name, has had the painting since the 1980s and brought it to Greco for some basic restoration. Greco said she immediately recognized that the painting was unusual and possibly valuable.
“You can see the [impressionist] influence in subject matter and technical approach,” Greco said. “The owner had no idea of its value before we found the signature using a magnifying glass. Now we know what a treasure this is. Congratulations are in order. It’s been in her family for years.”
Across Maine, it’s not unusual for people to discover, much to their surprise, that hand-me-down paintings are done by noted artists and are far more valuable than suspected, said Bottero. The most expensive find was a Joseph DeCamp painting that Thomaston sold at auction for $605,000 about a dozen years ago, he said.
“We have discovered millions of dollars worth of stuff throughout Maine,” Bottero said.