Dear Helaine and Joe:
I have what I hope is an interesting mystery to solve.
About a year ago, I acquired this painting from a local consignment shop. It was painted by Fritz Fig, an English artist known for his paintings of Dutch children with wooden shoes mainly depicted in idyllic genre scenes revolving around youthful activities. Who was Fritz Fig and when did he live? What was his reputation back then? I think I have a very special painting that at some point I would like to donate to a suitable European museum that recognizes Fig’s obscure talent.
— D.C., Minneapolis
Dear D.C.: We could only print a small part of this letter, but overall, we came to appreciate D.C.’s enthusiasm concerning the painting and that D.C. really likes it.
Good for him! That is the essence of art appreciation. Nothing we have to say from this point forward should dampen D. C.’s admiration and genuine affection for the charming genre scene. We also want to state that we like this painting, too: The innocence of the children and their tranquil day at the beach brings back wonderful memories and connects with our fantasies about an idyllic summer day.
Not very much is known about the artist Fritz Fig. No one seems to know where or when he was born. His origins are generally stated as being generic “European” or, more specifically in a few cases, “British.” We know his work is Victorian in both style and taste. This tends to indicate he was working in the last half of the 19th century, probably after 1875.
Over the past few years, paintings by the artist have sold at auction in such places as Tennessee, Connecticut, Missouri, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. Prices have ranged from $225 to $1,400.
Much of the large swing in value can be explained by the size of the work and the complexity. Large examples (21 by 39 inches) with lots of children seem to do better than smaller specimens (10 by 12 inches) with just two children.
However, the Fig painting that sold for only $225 was 20 by 24 inches and featured a dog, a doll and three children, one holding a slate. The image may be intricate and interesting on some level, but that the children are in some sort of cellar makes the overall effect a little gloomy. The artistry also appears to be somewhat subpar for Fig: but that is our judgment call.
When all is said and done, the prices indicate a second-tier artist who paints charming scenes with limited artistic appeal, or an artist whose work is a bit too sentimental for current tastes. As far as giving it to a museum, most American and European museums have little interest in what they consider to be second- or third-tier artists.
We think this is a lovely and appealing painting, but it is one with limited monetary and artistic value, which D.C. should enjoy while it hangs on his walls.