Treasures: Charming Artwork must be seen in Person to Determine True Value

Dear Helaine and Joe:

This is my most recent attic find! The piece is signed “Virgilio Tojetti.” What is it worth?

Thank you,

R. M., U.S. Army

Dear R. M.:

We call this column “Treasures in Your Attic,” but it is a sad fact that people very seldom find actual treasures in their attic.

Yes, they exist and do surface from time to time, but we feel it is unusual for attic treasure hunters to find something this beautiful and with potential monetary value of some significance. Before we go on, we want to state that the attic is really a very poor place to store art and antiques.

The atmosphere is ever-changing, and that can be a very bad thing for delicate treasures. Also, mice and bugs are often in these spaces, and they love to eat almost anything they find.

In short, we urge people to know what is actually in their attic and store the perishable things — such as this delightful portrait — somewhere else that is more climate controlled and vermin-free.

Initially, there was some question in our minds about what medium was used to create this picture of a girl with such a charmingly innocent expression and butterflies and moths flying around her head.

Could it be oil on canvas? Could it be a watercolor, or possibly a pastel?

Least desirable of all, could it be a print? We just do not know without more information from R. M., but we enlarged the picture she sent us and feel we can rule out oil on canvas because it has areas of foxing (brown spots possibly caused by a fungus). This suggests the picture was done on some sort of paper.

The frame, which is probably the original, is in a late 19th century rococo revival style, but we are sure R. M. has noticed the crest is damaged with one side of the floral apex missing part of its ribbon and leaf motif. This is easily repaired by a professional, but the expense may not be justified by the after repair value versus the current unrepaired value.

The artist of the piece was born in Rome in 1851 to an artistic family. Virgilio Tojetti’s father was a fresco (painting on wet plaster) artist and restorer who once worked for the Vatican. In 1867, the family relocated to Mexico, Guatemala and finally settled in San Francisco.

Virgilio studied in Paris and was a genre, landscape, mural and portrait painter who moved to New York City in 1883 and died there in 1901. His works sell at auction between $500 and $30,000, and his most popular pieces are depictions of beautiful women.

One of us thinks this may be a pastel, which should be valued in the $4,500 to $6,500 range, but the other thinks it is a print worth maybe $200 because of the foxing, which can be fixed, and the damaged frame. The piece needs to be seen in person by a specialist before it is insured to determine the real value.

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