This is something I love about my job. This year, I've helped 4 families with lost artworks painted by their talented relatives. In every case, they had given up all hope of finding, let alone owning an artwork from their grandfather, great-grandfather, etc. It was very emotional for everyone involved. Here are some of their stories:
Kenneth MacQueen was one of Australia’s most important 20th century watercolourists. He was among the first Australian watercolourists to paint in a modern style, and he is noted for his simply constructed, formalised, semi-abstract landscapes. His work is represented in most state galleries and in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. His niece, Sally approached me to purchase two works, one for herself and one for her father (Kenneth’s brother). Sally was able to identify one of the landscapes as the Darling Downs, near Toowoomba around 1930-40.
George William Bray was an Australian impressionist painter from South Australia. He was best known for his landscape and pastoral scenes. His great-granddaughter, Sara, approached me to purchase two paintings by Bray, a scene with bathers (ala Fred Leist), and a pastoral scene of Langhorne’s Creek, S.A., for her brother. Sara confirmed the pastoral was painted close to the family farm.
Ebenezer Edward Gostelow was an Australian naturalist painter specializing in Australian wildlife, specifically birds. His skill and integrity were well known and respected to the extent that the Australian Museum, amongst other institutions, loaned him stuffed birds from which he worked. Many of his paintings of birds and native Australian flora have been reproduced for the book For the Love of Nature. His works are incredibly rare due to the fact that when Gostelow died, his family bequeathed his entire portfolio of bird paintings to the National Library of Australia. Records show that no Gostelow work from his series of Australian birds has ever appeared on the secondary market. By chance, Ebenezer’s great-grandson, Jonathon, walked by our store and caught a glimpse of ‘Blue Wrens’ (1937) and was completely shocked! His family had given up all hope of finding an original, and now here was a beautiful example, the first seen in public.
Edward M. Smith was a well-respected Australian portrait painter & teacher. He was a finalist in the Archibald Prize on a number of occasions. In the late 1930s, Smith became the art critic for the Daily Telegraph in addition to his teaching role at East Sydney Technical College. He also conducted private lessons. In this later capacity he taught Justin O’Brien & Joshua Smith among numerous other famous Australian painters. I was contacted by his great-niece, Melanie, who has been studying the Edward’s work. She had never come across one of his works and couldn’t believe her eyes. Edward’s works had been lost after his death in 1956 in suspicious circumstances. After convincing her of it’s authenticity, she broke down in tears overcome by emotion.
All these relatives are now proud owners of wonderful, sentimental pieces with deep personal significance. It is an honour to be part of the process of helping families rediscover their proud history, and it is a completely fulfilling part of my job. I hope to continue assisting in this way in future. L