Austin Peay State University (APSU)
Clarksville, TN – Earlier this semester, Austin Peay junior Katherine Tolleson discovered two drypoint creations by famed artist Alphonse Legros in the University’s Permanent Collection.
Tolleson and APSU gallery director Michael Dickins started investigating clues on the drypoint’s paper, such as watermarks, signatures, titles and impression numbers. Legros’ signature was clear. And on one of the prints, titled “The Sailor,” Legros writes the image is one of only 10 imprints.
Tolleson and Dickins searched through dozens of Legros collections online. The British Museum in London, England, houses many Legros prints, so Tolleson crafted a letter recently to the museum.
“Our initial research led us to you,” Tolleson writes. “We appreciate any advice you have in attempting to officially authenticate the two prints.”
Hugo Chapman, who is The Simon Sainsbury Keeper of Prints & Drawings at The British Museum, responded on the same day.
“Dear Katherine, I see no reason not to think these are by Legros,” Chapman writes. “As you say the signature matches that found on many of his prints and he was a prolific printmaker. The numbering of 696 on the sailor matches that of ‘Le Marin’ (only 10 impressions).”
“Le Marin” is French for “The Sailor.”
Tolleson and Dickins previously hadn’t found record of any of the nine other impressions of “The Sailor,” but Chapman found a print titled “Le Marin” at Boston Public Library, which also houses a print similar to Austin Peay’s “Head of an Old Man.
“Looks like I may have to contact Glasgow, though I think that more research needs to be done going forward,” Tolleson said.
Using Ultraviolet Light
Austin Peay adjunct instructor and alumna Macon St. Hilaire recently visited with Tolleson to help investigate the Legros prints.
St. Hilaire is a technical art historian and preservation associate at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. She also earned her master’s degree in technical art history at the University of Glasgow.
Tolleson and St. Hilaire used ultraviolet light to examine the prints’ watermarks to pinpoint when and where the paper was created. The technique helped Tolleson read the watermarks.
“I was really unsure if this letter was an ‘O’ or a ‘C,’” she said. “There are several watermarks that look like this, but none that match it completely.”
St. Hilaire noted, “Art supplies in the United Kingdom were very standardized already in the early 18th century, so it would have been easy to get this from manufacturers there.”
“He was in a really big circle of artists at the time, like (James McNeill) Whistler and the Royal Academy,” St. Hilaire said. “His work is studied and valued for it, his drawings as well as his printmaking, his painting as well. He’s largely more well known in the UK than he is here.”
In her letter to The British Museum, Tolleson wrote: “The watermark on ‘The Sailor’ was partially cropped, and though we found one company that appeared to share a similar watermark, we weren’t 100 percent.
“After further research, we discovered three possible watermarks that this paper could have. Those being: Catteshall Mill, specifically Sweetapple; an unknown Britannia watermark; and James Simmon’s watermark.
“For ‘Head of an Old Man,’ we’ve concluded that the watermark, which features the letters O.W.P and A.C.L., is the watermark of the Old Watercolor Paper and Arts Company Ltd., founded in 1895 by John William North.”
The watermarks date the works to late in Legros’ life while he was still in England.
- To read the original story about Katherine Tolleson’s discovery, click here. That story also reports on APSU freshman Sarah Potter’s discovery of a famous Winston Churchill photo.
- For more about Austin Peay’s Permanent Collection, go to apsu.edu/art-design/exhibitions-speakers/collection.php.
- For more about the APSU Department of Art & Design, visit apsu.edu/art-design.
- To see Alphonse Legros’ collection at The British Museum, click here.