Valuing Artwork without Signatures: The Case of Maxfield Parrish

In determining the value of a painting, a number of factors must be considered, including the artist, provenance, the quality of work, period (date), and condition. In many instances we value paintings whose style and date of creation match those of well known artists though they lack signatures. School or Genre paintings are high quality works created in the same style of an artist but aren’t directly connected to them by signature or provenance. For example, many drawings in the market which cannot be attributed to Rembrandt yet have all the physical attributes of a Rembrandt are sold as “school of Rembrandt”. While an unsigned painting by a particular artist would have less value than a signed example by that very same artist, unsigned genre paintings do not command the highest prices in the marketplace.

We exercised this rule of thumb when we were asked to value a painting described as a Maxfield Parrish (American, 1870 – 1966) titled Angel with a claimed value of $200,000.00. Because the painting was burned in a fire and there were no existing photographs, we spoke to the insured in great detail about this painting. It was described to us as depicting an angel with extravagant, delicately painted gossamer wings on a rock on her knees, topless with a diaphanous cloth draped over her. The entire painting measured approximately 20” x 30”. The painting was not signed and, according to the insured, they were never able to attribute the piece to Maxfield Parrish. It was bequeathed to them 20 years ago from a family friend who received it from his sister who was said to have received it directly from Maxfield Parrish when they studied together at the Art Institute of Chicago. Knowing Maxfield Parrish’s work, this was a perfect depiction of his style and subject matter.

Enservio Select referenced Maxfield Parrish’s most recent catalogue raisonné, The Art of Maxfield Parrish, which references every known Parrish image, to find an image representing the description of the painting in question. While there are many Parrish paintings depicting a side view of a woman kneeling on rocks (Stars and Morning are two famous related images), there are no Parrish paintings or illustrations which depict an angel with gossamer wings. Moreover, gossamer wings were typically not an attribute found in any of his work. Furthermore, Parrish’s female figures were not topless as the angel in the painting was.

Enservio Select also consulted with Maxfield Parrish authority and expert, Alma Gilbert-Smith of the Parrish House Foundation. The Foundation believed that Angel is not the sort of composition Parrish completed. Secondly, Gilbert-Smith stated that all finished Parrish paintings were signed. Accordingly, based on the information provided, the Foundation concluded the painting was not a Maxfield Parrish. Accordingly, we valued the painting as such. If we make the extraordinary assumption that this painting was a very well-painted depiction of an angel from the late 19th/early 20th century and unsigned, the replacement value would be considerably less than the claimed value. In this instance, where the painting owned by the insured bears resemblance to paintings by Maxfield Parrish but cannot be attributed to Maxfield Parrish, we have priced it as a “school of” Maxfield Parrish because it was produced in a specific period and in the same style of the artist.

While Maxfield Parrish is considered a major American artist whose works bring premium prices in the current marketplace, not all high quality works produced in the same time are seen in such a favorable light. Considering the size of the painting and sales for “school of” Maxfield Parrish paintings, and paintings created in the style of Maxfield Parrish, we determined this painting to have a replacement value of $7,500.00. This represents a $192,500.00 difference from the claimed value of $200,000.00.

Maxfield Parrish Morning

Maxfield Parrish, Morning, 1922

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