William Holbrook Beard Found at Delaware Antiques Show
Oil on canvas, 1867/68, 18 x 14 1/2", original frame
Since the beginning of my career in the mid-1980s, when I first saw at The New-York Historical Society his two masterpiece paintings The Bear Dance and The Bulls and Bears Celebrate a Drop in the Market, I have loved the anamalier William Holbrook Beard (1824-1900). For decades I have hankered to own one of his paintings of bears but they were too pricey for my wallet. Now I own at least one painting by Beard and possibly another. The current painting, overshadowed by its ornate Victorian frame, depicts two foxes spying on some chickens scratching away nearby, unaware of their potential doom. I found the painting at the hallowed Delaware Antiques Show in 2016, a show I had not attended for many years. I made the rounds of the floor, admiring several paintings but neither willing nor able to pay the prices asked. Toward the end I viewed this painting on an end wall, by itself, and it stopped me in my tracks. The seller didn't know who the artist was as there was no signature. Two clues suggested strongly to me that the painting was by Beard. One was the sense of liveliness and humor shown in the face of the fox peering out from the vegetation at right. The other was the artist's repeated inclusion in his known paintings of plants with large triangular leaves, possibly burdock or skunk cabbage, seen here between the two foxes. In fact a study of nothing other than this particular plant was sold at auction several years ago. The dealer told me that he didn't know who the artist was, but mentioned an inscription behind the top left spandrel. I asked him if he'd mind if I took a digital photo or two and he pleasantly assented. Going home I pored over Alexander Gallery's monographic catalogue of an exhibition as well as consulting exhibition records for the artist. I found that in 1868 he showed a painting devoted to foxes and chickens at the Brooklyn Art Association. Also that several oval-format paintings, a relative rarity among artists, are known by him. That concluded my search and I tracked down the dealer and arranged to drive out and buy the painting from him. When I got it home, took it apart and inspected the inscription, the handwriting matched Beard's, as well as the whimsical nature of the words. I was delighted to be the owner of a full=sized Beard! I have yet to score a bear composition but hopefully that will come with time and more hunting!