Steve Roach published a nice article in Coin World July 1, 2016 about Sotheby's recent sale of three American trompe l’oeil
paintings depicting money. Here's an excerpt - be sure to read the complete version online on in your print edition. -Editor
It is not unusual to have one American trompe l’oeil painting depicting money in an auction, but to have three is a rather unusual
occurrence. Sotheby’s June 9 American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture auction in New York City realized just over $4 million and included
several lots of interest to numismatists.
All three were offered without reserve — meaning that the consignor, in this case an unnamed corporate collection — did not set a
minimum price. The first, A Few Bills by Victor Dubreuil, sold for $20,000, sailing past its estimate of $4,000 to $6,000.
The painting depicts seven U.S. notes attached to a wall. Among the notes depicted are an 1891 $1 silver certificate, an 1886 $5 silver
certificate and an 1891 $2 silver certificate.
As the artist did not have high denomination notes to work from, he often created fantasy notes for larger bills. Dustin Johnston,
director of currency at Heritage Auctions, pointed out that this painting has a fantasy $500 legal tender note and a fantasy $100 silver
certificate with design elements from an 1886 $1 silver certificate. At the center is an 1891 $1 Treasury note.
Johnson added, “These trompe l’oeil paintings depicting money are a window into time, revealing what was actually in circulation. The
cross section of currency in the painting points to how scarce the high denominations were. While most artists portrayed the small
denominations with incredible accuracy, few painters have ever accurately depicted notes at the $100 level or higher indicating that they
were far out of reach for the common man.”
The term “trompe l’oeil” is a French term that means “trick” or “fool the eye.” It is the name for a painting style that is highly
realistic and utilizes optical illusions so that the viewer is unsure of what is painted and what is real.
A still life of paper money and coins by Charles Alfred Meurer (American, 1865 to 1955) was estimated at $1,500 to $2,000 and brought a
massive $10,625. The small oil on canvas was signed by the artist and dated 1913 in the lower right. It had been in a private collection in
Cincinnati and was acquired by the corporate collection in 1992.
The painting depicts a bundle of money including an 1899 $5 silver certificate, an 1899 $1 silver certificate and a 1902 $20 national
bank note with Charter Number 24. Johnston noted that the charter number identifies it as being issued for a Cincinnati national bank.
Unlike the notes, the coins are not painted with sufficient specificity to allow for any attribution as to type or even
Fumes from a lit cigar at the edge of the painting enliven the picture.
Meurer spent much of his career in Terrace Park, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, and maintained a studio there for many years. He was
well-known for his realistic depictions of money and paintings with hunting motifs.
As Alfred Frankenstein wrote in his book After the Hunt: William Harnett and Other American Still Life Painters, 1870–1900, “This
mode of still life painting was later described as editorial-sanctum still life, something that emphasizes with appropriate objects
authority (books), industry (pen and inkwell) and respectability (money). Many journalism offices today have paintings or copies of them
with that motif.”
I have a copy of the Frankenstein book in my numismatic library, along with a catalog of money art from Berry-Hill Galleries (mentioned
in the article). i wish I could say I owned one of these paintings as well. -Editor
To read the complete article, see:
Sotheby's auction of
paper money and coin paintings yields big bucks
Wayne Homren, Editor
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