September 2015


I paint for the frame. So, naturally, I need to buy frames and this I do at my favorite resale shop. Sometimes I find a nice empty frame and other times I find a piece like the one below smack dab in the middle of the frame that I must have.




When I took this one to the cashier and paid for it, the clerk remarked that I had just bought a Van Gogh. I answered that it was not a Van Gogh. She was very sweet and kindly insisted that it was. "If this is a Van Gogh," I quiped, "then I just became a millionaire." We giggled and I left. Really, had this employee no faith in the Pricers, her more highly paid colleagues who stayed hidden in the dark back rooms of this store? They googled and studied all the wares that entered the bowels of this mightly institution, and spirited away anything of great value. How could a Van Gogh be thrown upon the heap of forlorn bric-a-brac beneath a leaky ceiling in this odiferous dump?






Later that week, I saw this beauty, and it was a "must have". And the painting inside? No matter, this can be removed, easily and with zest. I deftly ripped the canvas stretcher from the frame while my daughter looked on. "Mom," she said, "that was a nice painting." I held the canvas up to my nose and looked at the piece and remarked, "Yes, it is. Somebody clearly knew what they were doing." Then the googling began. The signature on the lower right was indescernable. But the word on the left read BILLINGS.





Long story short, as my daughter would say, Billings must have smudged his signature on the right, when the oil paint was still wet, and resigned it on the left to rectify the situation. A quick search of images under Billings turned up a number of paintings that matched the style. They were done by Henry J. Billings.


Henry J. Billings was born in 1901 and died in 1985. He was an American painter, illustrator, muralist, and art instructor active in New York City. His work is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.





I was curious about the place portrayed in the painting so I googled archs in New York City. I found images of this marble triumphal arch built in 1892 in Washington Square Park in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. Note, the street lamp matches the one in the painting. I suspect that this is the arch that Billings rendered and I wondered if he painted it live, from the street, but I could find no detailed history about him. I did, however, find other nuggets concerning his work.





In 1938, under the auspices of the WPA (Works Projects Administration), Billings created this enormous mural for the Medford Post Office in Massachusetts. "His “Golden Triangle of Trade’’ shows a white sailor leaning up against a post. That man is watching another, a black man, working, cane upon his shoulder, manacles lying open in the tropical sand. The triangle above them . . . sweeps from Africa, across the Caribbean, and then straight to Boston Harbor. That history was still perhaps too fresh to kill". (C. S. MANEGOLD, New England’s scarlet ‘S’ for slavery, The Boston Globe, Jan. 18, 2010.)


Needless to say, Billing's art is collectible and I had unwittingly purchased a valuable piece. I carefully inspected the canvas for any damage accrued from the way I "viciously" (my daughters word) ripped it from the frame. Fortunately, no damage was done and I gently cleaned it, reattached it, and sold it to a collector friend who would give it a nice home. Long story short, has the public no eye for art? Who decided to dump this little gem in a donation box and why hadn't I even looked at the piece? In conclusion, human error is not such a bad thing provided one learns something from it and grows in a positive direction.



Beach Spider

20.5" x 18", acrylic on wood panel, vintage wood frame





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