A Kentucky ophthalmologist and art collector learned recently that he had made the right decision in putting out $900 for a catchy but dirty painting of a river landscape.
Dr. Jim Huffman, who picked up the painting at a Lexington, Ky., antique store, took the 30-by-40-inch picture to Cincinnati to be cleaned. A few weeks later, he got a call from a restoration expert at the shop, who let him know that his painting was worth about $100,000, The Lexington Herald-Leader reports.
The restorer was able to unearth the signature on the painting, and learned that it was that of Robert Scott Duncanson, a noted 19th-century artist who was the first African-American painter to gain international recognition, according to the Herald-Leader.
Dennis Pigg, the owner of ClaireBourne Antiques, said he bought the painting at an estate sale in Northern Kentucky a few months earlier but was unaware of its worth.
Huffman said he wife, Paula, wasn't gung-ho about his purchase and didn’t want him to buy it. "She doesn't like antiques as much as I do …," he told the Herald-Leader, noting that he delayed buying it for a couple weeks. "Finally, I said, 'Paula, I'm going to buy that painting.’”
According to the Herald-Leader: “Duncanson, the artist, was born in 1821 in New York state, the newspaper reports. His father was a Canadian of Scottish descent, his mother, an African American. The family moved to Cincinnati where Duncanson caught the eye of one of the city's wealthiest individuals, Nicholas Longworth.
“Longworth commissioned the young artist to paint eight large murals for his house, now the Taft Museum of Art. In the 1850s, and again during the Civil War, Duncanson lived and traveled in Europe. Today, 22 of Duncanson's works are in the Smithsonian Institution's American Art Museum.
“Huffman has loaned his untitled painting to the Speed museum, where it is on view for the indefinite future.”