After being in business for 100 years, you would think that it would be a tough task to surprise us. After all, the fine art and antiques that M.S. Rau Antiques deals with are older than the company itself. Where’s the surprise in that? But for me, the most rewarding aspect of our business is that there’s always something new to discover. Or in this particular case…rediscover.
I was in Europe earlier this year attending an art exhibition. I was on the last leg of my trip and was actually rushing to catch my train when I caught a glimpse of a magnificent, unsigned painting attributed to Sir Edward John Poynter, a renowned British academic artist. It was stunning, masterfully executed, and I immediately fell in love with it the moment I saw it. I was in danger of missing my train, but I just had to stop if only for a second to inquire about it before heading on my way. To say the least, I was disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to discover more, and thought I had missed out on a very special opportunity.
The weeks passed and soon, I was in England on business. I had decided to depart from my travel schedule to make an unplanned visit with a friend, and there it was…the very same painting from the exhibition! What were the chances? This time, I didn’t have the pressure of missing a train to contend with, and I was not going to leave the country without it!
I immediately got in touch with a professor in Australia who is an expert on Poynter’s work and was already familiar with this particular painting. She confirmed that the painting was indeed by Poynter! Entitled Barine, this work was widely known in art circles in the late 19th century, but up until now, the painting’s whereabouts had been unknown for the past 40 years! The masterpiece takes its name from the femme fatale it depicts, the “Faithless Barine” from Horace’s Odes. The ingenious use of subtle symbolism tells the tale of a cold-hearted vixen of indescribable beauty that breaks the heart of every man she woos, leaving only “a train of slaves [which] grows every day.”
Surely, the circumstances of our Poynter acquisition don’t happen every day. But those rare occasions when we do find something “new,” rare and unique is better than winning the lottery. The thrill of knowing that M.S. Rau had a hand in such an important painting’s provenance, and that we get to continue the work’s journey by finding the right client,makes what we do both incredibly challenging and immensely gratifying. Who knew the world of fine art could be so exciting?