Bon Ami (meaning “good friend” in French) has been a line of popular cleaning products in America since the late 19th century. The company’s famous slogan, “Hasn't Scratched Yet!” is a reference to the cleanser’s non-abrasive properties, and was popularized by Ben Austrian, whose painting of the same name became the company’s trademark, depicting a chick emerging from an egg.

 

A scan of a 1906 lithograph ad from Bon Ami Corp depicting two newly hatched chicks in a coconut shell with a slogan in yellow text proclaiming "Hasn't Scratched Yet"

Bon Ami Corp | Ben Austrian, Lithograph | 1906

 

Along with Mary Russell Smith and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Reading artist Ben Austrian is the most represented artist of the collection, with thirteen oils featured in the following section. Austrian worked directly with Bon Ami as early as 1902 on a series of advertisements featuring paintings of his chicks – already a modern tie between art and commerce. In such advertisements, which included trade cards, Austrian’s depiction of the softness of the chicks, helped to emphasize Bon Ami’s non-abrasive productions, a revolution in the soap industry at the time. 

 

Ben Austrian, Chick with Boston Terrier. A realistic oil painting of a Boston Terrier puppy looking down at a newly hatched chick

Lot 33 | Ben Austrian (American 1870-1921), "Chick with Boston Terrier", oil on canvas, $6,000-10,000

 

The artists represented in the following collection succeeded in painting farm birds, sometimes in the company of other animals like puppies and squirrels, with great care, detail, and a sense of intimacy. At their best, they instilled a dose of sensibility, often reminiscent of our own human reactions.

 

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, "Born Yesterday". A realistic painting of five newly hatched chicks, three black and brown and two yellow, on a forest floor. One yellow chick is stretching it's wings and raising its head to look at a lady bug crawling up a rock

Lot 30 | Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (American 1819-1905), "Born Yesterday", oil on canvas laid down to Masonite, $4,000-6,000

 

In early 1999, a selection of paintings from the Faultless Starch/Bon Ami Corporate Collection was exhibited at the Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania. The exhibition, entitled “Warm, Soft & Fuzzy,” presented the artwork within the context of mid-19th to 20th-century painting as a sub-genre of depicting domesticated animals in American life, with an adherence to the truth-to-nature dictum popularized by John Ruskin.

 

Mary Russell Smith, "Chickens in a Picnic Box". A realistic painting of many newly hatched chicks emerging from a white picnic box with a red interior in an open field.

Lot 40 | Mary Russell Smith (American, 1842-1878), "Chickens in a Picnic Box", oil on board, $3,000-5,000

 

As opposed to the works of famed bird painter John James Audubon, or even the Dutch/Flemish Old Masters who often depicted fowl with an emphasis on scientific or anatomical study, Ben Austrian, Mary Russell Smith, Samuel S. Carr, Howard Hill and the others whose paintings are in the collection portray a farmyard menagerie through a softer, gentler, almost sympathetic lens.

 

Ben Austrian, "Twenty One Chicks and a Bug". A realistic oil painting of twenty one newly hatched chicks on a forest floor all crowded around one chick holding a fly in its beak.

Lot 52 | Ben Austrian (American, 1870-1921), "Twenty One Chicks and a Bug", oil on canvas, $6,000-10,000