Red Skelton's Judith Leyster, Sold by LACMA, Resurfaces in New Hampshire
|Judith Leyster, Boy Holding Grapes and a Hat, about 1630. Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Skelton played clowns on his TV variety show and had a sideline painting kitschy clown portraits. The comic gave Boy Holding Grapes to the Los Angeles County Museum in 1955. LACMA sold it in 1977. Presumably that was with Skelton's consent, for he lived to 1997.
|Left: Philippe Halsman, Red Skelton, 1952. LACMA. Right: A giclée print of Red Skelton's Freddy
Boy Holding Grapes was then "out of sight for 40 years until it was discovered by noted Dutch dealer Salomon Lilian." The latter is a well-known gallerist with numerous sales to American collectors and museums.
Museum acquisitions committees are avidly seeking works by pre-contemporary women artists (as recent posts have noted). One would expect an unquestioned Leyster in prime condition to have many big-money bidders. That Boy Holding Grapes went to a regional museum not known for its acquisition budget hints at a painting that is problematic in some regard. There could be questions about its attribution, condition, or provenance.
That includes the black asterisk that comes from having been deaccessioned by a major museum. This is the only work that Red Skelton donated to LACMA. What's the chance that a Hollywood star, then or now, buys one Old Master painting and it's a legit masterpiece?
That's not to say it couldn't happen. Currier director Alan Chong is convinced that Boy Holding Grapes adds one to the small (rarer than Vermeer) corpus of Leyster paintings.
|Judith Leyster, Self-Portrait, about 1630. National Gallery of Art, Washington. This famous Leyster is contemporary with the assigned date of the Boy Holding Grapes and Hat