Monday, November 4, 2013

Talk Sunday at Tom Thomson Art Gallery on how group purchased and worked to authenticate a painting believed to be by Edward Hopper

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound
Ron Flarity (left) and Blair Mooney with the painting they believe is a real Edward Hopper. (JAMES MASTERS/QMI AGENCY)
Ron Flarity (left) and Blair Mooney with the painting they believe is a real Edward Hopper. (JAMES MASTERS/QMI AGENCY)

It’s been the dream of many: buy an item at a sale for a relatively cheap price and discover it’s worth millions of dollars.
For a group of Owen Sound friends, the dream has most likely become reality.
The foursome own what is believed to be an original Edward Hopper, purchased on eBay for $585.
“It’s authentic. We’ve got no doubt in our mind now,” said Ron Flarity, who submitted the winning bid online in May 2007.
The group has spent about $40,000 in an effort to authenticate the oil painting, believed to be a study for Hopper’s famous work “High Noon.”
Top art experts have said it’s real and could fetch $5 million to $10 million — or maybe more — at auction.
Flarity and part-owner Blair Mooney are scheduled to speak about the find and the journey to verify its authenticity Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound. Admission is by donation.
Virginia Eichhorn, director and chief curator of the art gallery, said the group’s story is one that will be intriguing to pretty much everyone.
“This could be one of the most exciting discoveries in the art world of the year or the decade even,” she said.
Flarity said he will present at the talk the results of multiple forensic and expert studies, completed over the last six years, that indicate the painting was indeed by Hopper, an American realist artist who died in 1967.
The evidence booklet includes an analysis by Pennylvania-based Thurston Royce Gallery director Bruce Loch, a renowned expert of works by Hopper.
“He said there’s no doubt it’s real. You don’t have to do anymore testing, he said you’ve proven it beyond a doubt,” Flarity said.
The painting, advertised on eBay U.K. as a work by Hopper, was purchased by Flarity and his late brother Don from a seller in Northern Ireland who found it at a flea market.
It depicts a Cape Cod-style house under a blue sky with white clouds. Two women — one standing and one sitting on steps — are by the home’s front door. A dog is nearby. The painting measures 36 centimetres by 46 cm.
Hopper’s oil-on-canvas masterpiece, 1949’s “High Noon,” depicts the same house, with only a lone woman standing in the doorway. It measures 70 cm by 100 cm and is housed at the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio.
The Owen Sound group’s painting has undergone multiple tests, including X-ray examinations, to prove it’s a study — a work in preparation for a finished piece — of “High Noon.” It has been analyzed by art experts, renowned conservators and university officials.
When Flarity and his brother bought the piece, both men were on disability assistance. Their hobby was to buy art, then turn around and try to sell it for a profit.
“It’s quite a story, I’ll tell ya, of what we had to go through and what we did” to try to authenticate it, he said.
Since the purchase, Don Flarity died of a heart attack — his widow Helen is now part-owner — and two friends, Mooney and Ken Marshall, were brought on board as partners to help pay for the tests and studies.
“I couldn’t afford it. I just couldn’t do it for the scientific and the analytical work,” he said.
The original eBay seller also died in a car crash in 2011.
Meanwhile, the group has been working for years to have the painting authenticated by the world’s foremost Hopper expert, Gail Levin.
“This is what we’re going to show at The TOM: the evidence and the story. To see the evidence, it has to be real,” he said.
The story has been covered by major newspapers and there is talk of a documentary on the subject, Flarity said.
He said the group is waiting until at least December, when another Hopper is set to be auctioned off at Christie’s American Art auction in New York, before deciding what to do with the painting.
East Wind over Weehawken has been valued at $22 million to $28 million.
Flarity said the group has been given advice by Loch.
“He thinks (East Wind) is going to break the record (for Hopper paintings), so he said to hold off even thinking about selling until after December,” he said.
Actor Steve Martin sold “Hotel Window” by Hopper for $26.89 million — an auction record — in 2006.
Loch “said right now, ours is sitting between $5 and $10 million but if (East Winds) breaks the record, it could go between $10 and $15 million,” said Flarity.

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