Who was Antoine Blanchard? Was that his real name and if not, where did it come from? And why are there so many similar works signed with the same name? These are some of the questions we hear at least 3 or 4 times every week and while nobody seems to have the full and accurate answer, here’s what we have learned. Please keep in mind that much of this information has not been verified with independent sources, though I did have a couple of conversations with the artist’s grandson – Fabrice – shortly before his untimely death.
Currently we estimate that 1 out of every 8 or 10 works found in the market are actually by the “Antoine Blanchard” that we sell and just to set the record straight, his real name was Marcel Masson (November 15, 1910 – August 10, 1988).
Masson was a typical 20th century School of Paris artist who specialized in landscapes and street scenes. By the late 1940s or early 1950s it appears that he began to experiment with views of Paris and these then lead to more nostalgic scenes based on photos he had collected from the 1880 – 1910 period. At this same point in time we assume he decided to change his name from Marcel Masson to Antoine Blanchard (the current story, confirmed in a conversation I had with his grandson, is that he looked in the Paris phone book and chose his new name). My personal feeling is that the reason he decided to paint under a pseudonym was so that if his ‘new venture’ did not work out, he would not tarnish his real name and reputation.
By 1958 (currently we have been able to trace the provenance on a number of the paintings back to this date) it appears that he was painting and selling his Belle Époque Parisian street scenes through a number of galleries in France, England and the United States. These early works were painted in an impressionistic style … thick areas of paint laid down with quick, loose, brushstrokes juxtaposing areas created with long crisscrossing strokes – a technique used to develop a feeling of movement and action. At this time his signature appears to be somewhat relaxed and the letters in ‘Blanchard’ flow together more often. There is also the inclusion of a single period at the end. And just for information’s sake, we do know that in the late 50s the artist received between $35 and $40 for a 13 x 18 inch canvas and when they finally made it to the retail market were selling in the $130 to $180 range.
Between 1958 and 1961 his style went through a number of changes. His brush strokes appear thicker and more fluid while the color palette grew richer and brighter. His signature was fairly similar, but by 1961 he began to regularly add a second period – one after Antoine and another after Blanchard.
It is our belief that demand for Masson/Blanchard’s work was increasing and he most likely had deals with a few galleries, in different countries, to supply them exclusively within their geographic area. This, of course, created a problem for other dealers looking to sell works by Blanchard … so what were they to do? The next best thing, have another artist paint similar views of Paris and also sign them ‘Antoine Blanchard’. Now I am sure your initial reaction will probably be: isn’t that dishonest? Well, it is important to keep the following in mind. First, it does not appear that Marcel Masson registered/copyrighted the name Antoine Blanchard so any other artist could actually use the same name; and second, during this time nobody was buying these works for their ‘investment’ potential, they were purely decorative paintings … souvenirs of people’s visit to Paris. To be honest, I do not think that anybody ever thought they would become collectible or valuable.
Another question we are often asked is: how do we know the difference between the Masson Blanchards and all the other Blanchards? The simple answer is that it comes from years of looking at them.
To begin with, if in fact these other galleries hired artists to paint similar scenes at least they were also smart enough to have those artists sign their works with slight differences. One used two dots after the last name, while another used two dots before the Antoine and two dots after the Blanchard. One used no dots, but favored a real script style signature, while another used a single dot before and after the signature. We even see some paintings signed ‘A. Blanchard’.
Another important difference is that each artist had their own style/technique and their own color palette. Once you have done a serious in-depth study of the different artist’s works, they are easy to spot. To us it is as easy as looking at two cars and knowing the difference between the Dodge pickup and the Ferrari – and honestly, that is how easy it is for us to spot the Marcel Masson ‘Blanchards’ from all the others.
But now let’s get back to the Antoine Blanchard that we know and love. Between 1961 and 1963 his works begin to resemble a strong early 1950s painting by Edouard Cortès and it is the works from this period that are/were often used, by unscrupulous individuals, to fool the buying public. Over the years we have seen a number of the fake Cortès’ that were actually Blanchard paintings from the early 1960s on which a Cortès signature has been added.
By 1963 we discover the reintroduction of what we like to call his hatching technique – one he favored in the late 1950s. Now shorter in length, these crisscross strokes are again employed to create movement and action in the foreground areas; while the background areas and figures are more refined in appearance. As the 1960s progress, this technique became more pronounced and developed into what people now call the artist’s ‘signature style’ – no longer would his works be confused with those of Cortès.
From the late 1960s through his death in 1988, Blanchard’s technique remained fairly consistent. And if it were not for the changes in his palette, I think one would find it difficult to differentiate between an early 1970s piece and one from the late 1980s. As time moved on, Blanchard favored more muted colors and by the late 1980s, his colors have lighter, more pastel, hues.
Now, there is nothing wrong with buying works from any one of the artist’s periods and if you are going to create a collection of paintings by Blanchard it might be nice to have examples from all of them. What one needs to be concerned with it the price they pay for works from the different periods. In today’s market most dealers are basing price on the work’s size and not on its period ... and this is where people will be hurt in the long run. It is our opinion that paintings from the post 1980 period should be less expensive than those from the 70s or even those from the 60s/50s.
Again, I want to stress that the information contained here is derived from many years of looking at Blanchard works, studying old records relating to the artist, reading Mrs. Paule Lardé’s book titled Antoine Blanchard (no publication information is included in this book, but it was definitely written after 1979), talking with certain dealers whose families represented the artist, speaking with relatives of dealers who sold works by some of the ‘other’ Blanchards, and a few short conversations with the artist’s grandson.
One final note; according to Paule Lardé, Antione Blanchard, whom she met in 1948, married a Parisian woman in 1939 and they had two children - Nicole (who started painting under the name A. Champeau) and Evelyn (also an artist). I can add that during one of my conversations with Fabrice (the artist’s grandson) he confirmed that there were only two children so, unless there is some kind of Blanchard cover-up going on, the rumors that he had a son who painted under the name Antoine Blanchard, Jr. are, most likely, false.
Internet Auction Complaints
Among the Top 10
This February the Federal Trade Commission released its annual report listing the top 10 consumer complaints. Of the 635,175 complaints filed during 2004, Internet auctions accounted for 98,653 (about 16%) of them. This figure was up from 83,161 (15%) in 2003 and 51,003 (13%) in 2002.
As we have stated in the past, it is important to be very careful when purchasing anything on the Internet and you must be even more fastidious when looking to buy from any of the online auction sites. What you think you are buying is not always what you end up buying!
Gallery Updates: New works by Paul Blondeau, Louis Aston Knight, Antoine Blanchard, Edouard Leon Cortès, Paul-Charles Chocarne-Moreau, and Sally Swatland have been added to our web site this month.
Among the many paintings that found new homes since our last newsletter were: Julien Dupré’s Peasants in the Field; Marius Roy’s Au quartier; huit heures et demie; Leon Perrault’s Away from Home; Benjamin Eugene Fichel’s The Chess Game; Edouard Cortès’ Les Grands Boulevards, Le Tricot, Flower Seller at la Madeleine and Boulevard de la Madeleine; Antoine Blanchard’s Bouquinistes de Notre Dame and Sally Swatland’s Long Island Sound.
Virtual Exhibitions: This month we have added a major work by Leon Perrault to the Rehs Galleries – A Visual History exhibition. Away From Home, a work the gallery recently sold and one that has not been on the market since the early 1900s, illustrates why this student of Bouguereau became such a popular artist during his lifetime. For those of you who are fans of French Academic art, you will definitely enjoy this painting (link is below):