Case Study

"Dutch Orphans Reunited"

Charles August Ficke

Heavenly Thoughts
Pretty dry writing once again but, my God, look at the painting! What a joy for me, even up here. I've had time recently to reassess the discovered provenancial information against what was known previously. As a lawyer, I learned to deal with the facts but also to interweave those with common sense. What makes sense is usually what happened and it's through this deductive process we can reinterpret the new findings. Let's look again at the discovered information.
G. Morrill Stamp/Re-Assembly Numbers
Remember that stretcher stamp, "G. Morrill   Liner." This firm specialized in linings and stretchings, and Morrill only owned the business for eight years, from 1857 to 1865. This seemingly places the lining of my segment within this window. But this makes no sense, for I bought my segment at auction in 1908, a full forty-three years after Morrill could have done the lining. It is inconceivable that Blakeslee had the painting lined and stretched, and then held onto it for forty-three years before attempting to sell it. The piece doesn't appear in any of the previous Blakeslee catalogues that I checked, so it wasn't that Blakeslee attempted to sell the painting earlier. Yes, the painting could have changed hands several times before Blakeslee bought it, but if you will bear with me, I don't think this is so.

Re-Assembly 8

G. Morrill   Liner

Re-Assembly 3
What is significant here are the numbers that were written on the inside of the stretcher as a guide for reassembly. It wouldn't have been Morrill who wrote the numbers, for he built the stretcher. Barry couldn't figure this out, but I sensed something was wrong. Remember, there was no original tacking edge, only the tacking edge of the lining fabric. I asked Barry to go back and remove a section of the tacking edge. Imagine my joy and the hearty laugh I had at the look on his face when he removed the edge tacks and peeled back the lining fabric to discover tacks from an earlier stretching hidden underneath. This new discovery is pictured below.

Tacking Edge


Hidden Older Tacks Under Tacking Edge
This tells me that this stretcher was used previously for a completely different painting and it's this work that was carried out between 1857 and 1865. Remember, there was only one set of tacking holes in the lining fabric, which told me that the painting had never been removed from the current stretcher. For whatever reason, the stretcher members were numbered, disassembled, and then reassembled at a later date, probably just prior to 1908. The "G. Morrill   Liner" stamp thus becomes a "false-positive."
"Mr. S[illegible]"
The same would hold true for the penciled inscription, "Mr. S [illegible]". Barry hoped to find a linking provenancial name in Blakeslee's ledger, now in Washington. His thinking was to review the Blakeslee purchases between 1857 and 1865 and try to find a match. His thinking was wrong. "Mr. S" was likely the owner of the painting that was treated by Morrill years earlier.

Mr. S[illegible]
The Linings
The two lining fabrics were identical. The canvases had matching age and texture, and both had thirty-two threads per inch. Even the edge tacks matched with a 3/8" diameter head and a four-faceted 1/2" shaft. There was another very important clue that the linings were carried out not only at the same time but by the same individual or firm. The person who wrote the reassembly number "7" on my painting also wrote the "72" inch height on the second stretcher. Both sevens have an identifying characteristic little curl at the top of the stroke. As a final link, the stretcher sizes were both written in the same light-blue chalk. The two linings were clearly done by the same person or firm at the same time.

Stretcher One
Re-Assembly 7

Stretcher Two Height 72
Light-Blue Chalk

Stretcher Tacks
Stretcher One and Two

Stretcher One 4 from 48" Height
Light-Blue Chalk


The common sense interpretation of these facts leads me to conclude that Blakeslee did buy the segments in London. He then went to a local stretcher maker and bought two stretchers: one that was in their stock unassembled, and made by Morrill; the other they made themselves. After lining and stretching, the paintings were shipped to America for resale.
Further Conclusions
Should we conclude that Blakeslee bought the two segments at the same time or at different times since one segment was sold in 1908 and the other in 1916? Barry was stumped on this. It is here we have to rely on what makes sense. From the above lining insights, it could only be that the two segments were bought at the same time and then lined and stretched. The key question now becomes did Blakeslee buy two canvases or one canvas. Again, Barry was stumped, but the auction entries offer certain insights. (21)
The entry of my segment is shown below. As you can see, Blakeslee titled the piece Group of Figures and attributed the work to Govaert Flink. Blakeslee was well aware of the painting's true subject matter, but he couldn't title the piece Group of Figures from Christ being shown to the People for it begs the question, How would he have known it was from an Ecce Homo composition? He couldn't tip his hand and as a result the painting was only titled Group of Figures.

Blakeslee 1908 Auction Catalogue Entry

What is surprising is the title of the Hackley Art Gallery's segment, Figures, imaged below. Christ's bound hands and the reed should have been identifying clues, but in their haste to sell nearly five hundred paintings from Blakeslee's estate they paid little attention to detail. The attribution to Gerbrand Van den Eeckhout similarly credits the segment to one of Rembrandt's students, albeit a different one than mine.

Blakeslee 1916 Estate Auction Catalogue Entry
I've talked to numerous reputable dealers up here asking them, "What's going on?" They all had the same condemning answer: "You can sell two paintings for more than one." Blakeslee bought the fragment as a unit but he couldn't sell an L-shaped painting. So what did he do? He cut the canvas. He couldn't sell the segments at the same time, for once again this would have tipped his hand. He always intended to sell the second segment but he died before he could, and the piece became part of his estate sale. I've looked all over for Blakeslee to ask him about this, but it's not surprising he's nowhere to be found.

Dutch Orphans Reunited
After a hundred and two years of separation, the orphaned sisters are now united. (22) But where are the brothers? My joy is only tempered by the fact that the present painting is still just a fragment of a larger composition. One missing section would have included the figure of Pontius Pilate standing next to Christ. And so the quest begins anew to find the remaining family members.

"Christ before the People" Segments
Computer Joined     After Treatment

(21) Catalogue entries taken from: American Art Association. Notable paintings by masters of the early English, Dutch, Flemish, and French schools. Place of sale: New York. Date of sale: April 9-10, 1908; and American Art Association. Nearly Five Hundred Paintings of the Early English, French, Flemish, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and American Schools From the Widely Known Blakeslee Galleries. Place of sale: Plaza Hotel, Grand Ballroom, New York. Date of sale March 6, 1916.
(22) The two paintings were not physically reunited. They will be displayed at the museum adjacent to each other.


Table of Contents, Biography, Provenance, Examination, Treatment,
Fortune Shines, Examination, Treatment, Heavenly Thoughts, My Two Cents


Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
1122 N. Jackson Ave., River Forest, IL. 60305
Ph.(708)771-0382  Fax.(708)771-1532