S.J. in Santa Barbara showed me a drawing before she framed it. She thought it might be an original when she saw it in Ventura at the Boys and Girls Club Thrift store, and she picked it up for $20. Occasionally it is fun to take a chance.
I will explain to you how my mind worked as I looked at the piece, which really did look like a work on paper by Diego Rivera, not signed but dated 22 Aug. 1928.
The paper looks like it has been pulled from one of those flip, lengthwise, artists’ sketchbooks. Although it is not high quality artist paper, it is sketchpad paper. One side has the perforations from the binding from which it may have been torn, and the other side has shaped corners, typical of a sketchbook.
It appears to be chalk and charcoal on paper. I look for the slightly raised and friction-based “pull” of the charcoal and chalk on paper. It felt a bit raised to my very ginger touch.
Furthermore, when I look with a loupe, it does not appear to be pigment laid on paper in a photomechanical process, because I would see the dot matrix pattern of a mechanical process print.
When I compare the shape of the date’s letters and the numbers, I see, looking at photos in auction results, that they look like they might be in the hand of Rivera. Of course, this piece lacks the artist’s signature, and that worries me because he usually signed his work.
What was the artist doing in 1928? That was a big year for Rivera, as he had just returned from a Communist Party celebration in Moscow and was journeying back through Berlin to Mexico in June 1928. He began working on a mural for the Mexican Ministry of Education, as well as a fresco series at Chapingo. He began thinking of images to use for a 1930 mural commission called “Visions of the History of Mexico.”
So perhaps all these facts would allow us to think that a lowly scene of a mother and son at a bath on a dirt floor might be right for the year 1928; the documentary style of an image of the common folk at the date of 1928 is “right.” If this turns out to be original, the date of 1928 might be auspicious, because that is the year in which Rivera met Freda Kahlo, and that might interest a collector.
If it were to be original, why is it not signed? Usually, an artist signs in two or more cases: he may sign a sketch, perhaps given as a gift, or an artist will sign as an indication that a work is finished and complete. Usually Rivera signed his sketches, unless this one never intended for anyone else’s eyes.
What’s next? S.J. might need a paper analysis, whicih is difficult to do. It has been glued onto cardboard;. (Did the artist often do this? The answer is yes; we have other images glued down, and sold recently.)
S.J. might contact a few auction houses; sending good photos of the work for an estimate. She doesn’t have to sell the piece and won’t have to pay for this, but by the values given, she may have an indication.
I looked to see if I can find this image sold at auction since electronic records have been kept, and it has not. I searched all known images of prints, multiple, lithographs, and I do not see this image. What is the likelihood given these facts above that SJ has an original work?
One possibility that it may be “right” is the nature of the artist’s life.
Rivera worked in at least five countries, he gave sketches away, and he kept many sketchbooks. He worked on many murals, paintings, commissions, and was constantly gathering ideas. He lived a long and prolific life, he worked in many styles, and he sketched constantly, sometimes in vignettes.
The likelihood of finding an original Rivera in a thrift store is perhaps higher than an artist who lived in one place, worked in one style, in one medium, and died early.
What could this be worth if authentic? All comparable sales are signed works, as those are the top level sold at auction, for any artist.
However, the comparable sales in this size, with similar theme, on sketch paper, in crayon, chalk, or charcoal sell for $1,000-$4,000.
S.J. may have found a treasure.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.