Notes From An Appraiser March 2018

This is a story of two paintings and the appraiser.  On one day I had two office appointments scheduled, for one a Chinese painting and one Japanese painting. I was sent photographs of the paintings before the scheduled appointments. In both cases, the properties, the paintings, were inherited from their grandparents. I charge $300 an hour, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if either of these paintings would be of that value.

While researching the two different properties before the office appointment, I wrestled with the thought the property may not equal my charge. Both individuals were driving around an hour to see me and I m acutely aware that time equals money , I charge a travel fee. The Chinese Painting was a landscape, with mountains in the distance and a waterfall, a pagoda in the right fore front. The painting was a vertical format, lending it’s shape to the effect of gazing over a valley. There was a red ink square stamp with archaic Chinese script and a running script of Chinese characters. I can’t read Chinese, but had determined the translation of the text did not effect quality, and likely not value.

When I saw the Chinese painting, watercolors on silk. I immediately knew it was not of $600 value. The landscape theme, mountain with waterfall, is popular , but quality brushstrokes were not present. I spoke about the property for five minutes, after signing my contract, and told the owner not to stay, his property was not worth $600, only if the artist was known and that I could not translate the characters. It was a difficult position to explain why, if I were unable to read the writing, I knew this great condition, waterfall landscape watercolor, was not valuable.  Only if by someone famous and I, the appraiser, could not answer what the owner found to be the most important, the artist name.

I have not told someone to leave before. It felt awkward discussing his property, when the bottom line was the watercolor was not quality work. Why waste the client time and mine. All my family stories about honesty, doing the right thing, we are our brothers keeper came flooding into my mind. I was not smooth, I just said “do not write me that check, your property is not valuable. No, I cannot translate. Well maybe, if artist well known and no I can’t read. “. It was the first of my two appointments and I questioned my judgement of accepting the jobs.

Then in walked the Japanese painting. In the Asian marketplace, Japanese art is the least valuable. The painting was ink on paper, about 30” wide, simple wood frame and mounted with different strips of cloth around the borders, evidence that at one time this was a scroll, with many horses throughout the layers of background. When I say many horses, think over twenty. Horses are a popular theme in ink painting, usually one horse, but also three or maybe five. My notes were underlined, ‘many horses’. The condition of the property was as is. The two different silk cloths used for mounting were faintly visible. The quality of this cloth, regardless of condition, was superior. I could date it to early 17th century. Again I could not read signature nor recognize seal of artist, but why would an inferior painting be mounted with such valuable silk. The painting itself had some water damage at the top, but appeared stabilized. This property I valued at just under $1,000 fair market value. I mentioned if conserved and remounted with similar quality fabric, both costing thousands, it would be quite valuable. I still felt a bit uneasy about the $300 fee, but I spoke for an hour easily about the property.

Again it was a judgment call, one built on years of experience. I sent the writing and signature later to a scholar friend who found the artist to be 1575 – 1645. This matched my dating of the fabric. Later that week, I saw a Japanese 17th century painting, presented as a two panel screen, of portrait of Daimyo and horse, for $50,000. It was in pristine condition. Naturally I sent photos to owner of horse painting for reference. It made me again feel confident about my judgement call.

Cynthia Shaver