Rescued Art

Basicila Di San MarcoOutside in the sun. The old gold print was leaning against a dumpster full of truly discarded items from this not-so-well- kept country house. It used to be the country, but now is a commuter area for Albany, though none of our elected officials would live here. It was leaning next to a poorly produced print of a Vegas show. A couple came by the prints. They looked at Vegas, not noticing the old gold. I realized that some of our job at Rescued Art is to cajole people into looking at things they would normally ignore.

I took the piece completely apart to look for clues. There was no printer’s mark or colorist’s name. There was no dating on the frame. Nothing. It is clearly an old photograph that was hand painted for color. Only two basic colors were used: red/orange and blue/green. The brush strokes of the hand painting are clear. The colorist’s work was not subtle, yet this print has survived in excellent condition for a very long time and the paper has taken on some gorgeous patina tones. This aging makes simple art into very fine beautiful art.

Perhaps this was a pre-portable camera post card for tourists to take back to the states after a visit to the old country, what used to be called “The Grand Tour.” This small country house was owned by second generation Europeans who went back for a visit after saving up some money from the man’s work cleaning up the state government buildings. Up close, the print is a mass of reflection and shiny glints. The overall effect is that the print must be covered in gold, although there is actually no gold on the surface at all. Very compelling illusion for a big postcard.

The clothes of the people strolling St. Mark’s square is a good pointer as to when this print was made. The women are wearing long, full dresses. Too late for the bustle of what the English call the Victorian look (1837-1901). The ladies are very formal with hats and umbrellas for the sun. Their boots are high and laced tight. The men are all wearing suits with vests and high collared shirts with little black ties. (What we call loosely Edwardian 1901-1910). Too early for the long fronted tie of the Second World War. They are sporting beards and hats, many of the style we call straw porkpie or boaters. There are no stove pipe hats, probably because this is a daytime, informal stroll through the piazza. There are no signs of modern electrification at all. It makes me think this print is from about 1905-1910.

The presentation also points to the age of the print. The heavy frame is golden from the use of real gold paints. And the backing board is rough-hewn hard wood slats. Not veneer, not cardboard. When was the last time you saw real wood in any hidden area of a piece of art? I love this old gold. It is anonymous and so must attract the eye for itself, not its artist, colorist or other sort of provenance. Maybe I can cajole you into taking a look.