Art: Windfall

2 minute read

One of the oldest artists’ clubs in the U. S. (founded 1860) is the Philadelphia Sketch Club. Since Etcher Joseph Pennell warmed his coattails in its snug, chimney-potted, red-brick clubhouse on narrow Camac Street, drinking tea by the quart and muttering against the Philistinism of his native city, the Sketch Club has seen chilly days. Few years ago its treasurer absconded, leaving it with 16¢ in the bank. Still intact, however, are the club’s fine library, its tankard-lined rathskeller, its walls tiled with paintings and prints. Still going strong is the club’s annual Christmas party, a festival of Fish-house punch, cold turkey and song.

A loyal Sketch Clubber for 50 years was red-faced, sedate Portraitist Louis Hasselbusch. He never missed a Christmas party; when he died in 1938 he left the club $500 towards the party’s upkeep, plus his “pictures, sketches and studio effects.” Last week this apparently inconsiderable be quest turned out to be a windfall. In his studio’s litter was a small oil painting on a wooden panel, signed H. D., and titled (by Hasselbusch) Conjugal Parisiene (sic). Joyful experts identified it as one of famed Lithographer Honore Daumier’s rare paintings. The Sketch Club banked it in a safe-deposit vault, planned to sell “to the right person.”

Painter Hasselbusch picked up his tiny oil (8 by 10 inches) in Paris shortly after Cartoonist Daumier died there in 1879, a blind pensioner of the Third Republic. Original Daumiers nowadays sell for five figures. Museums, if not collectors, must think twice before buying so harsh a domestic satire as Conjugal Parisiene, never before reproduced. No Daumier was jolly old Portraitist Hasselbusch. Typical of his work is Turbaned Turk, which the Sketch Club has hung in his memory. It will never need a safe-deposit vault.

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