For me, the most rewarding experiences as an auction house appraiser are the happy, unexpected ‘discoveries’ that originate from private collectors and estates. The best, most memorable of these ‘finds’ have resulted in massively successful prices realized. Examples of this happy phenomena – unearthing a find, bringing it to market and observing (often as the lucky auctioneer presiding over the crowd perched on the rostrum) dueling bidders from both sides of the Atlantic, all eager to become the new owner of a plum lot – occur more than the layperson might imagine. The result of connoisseurship, a keen eye, marketing, sensible valuation and occasionally a happy accident, an exceptional auction result for a ‘newly unearthed’ good is, in fact, the opposite of offering for sale a high-end lot with a correspondingly (sometimes) punchy pre-sale estimate and the associated lofty expectations on the parts of both consignor and auctioneer. Fresh-to-market notable lots on offer that remain fresh-to-mind for me include the welcome discovery of a wonderful Max Liebermann painting quite literally found and removed from an oversize trash bag left on the floor of an elderly woman’s unkempt, rather filthy apartment…it went on to sell in the six-figure range: good news for the estate executor; not so good news for optimistic ‘dumpster divers.’ A crisply painted 19th century Dutch townscape with figures with an indecipherable monogrammed signature was discovered to have been a stellar example of the work of Cornelis Springer, one of the leading city view painters in 19th century Holland. This small oil on panel also sold for six-figures, far exceeding expectations when consigned as being by an unknown hand. Lastly, and certainly not least, an applause-filled auction room, a world record auction price for a Caucasian rug ($341,625) and a full feature article about the rug in the prestigious Hali Oriental Rug magazine is the conclusion to the story which began with a visit to the historic estate of Robert Montgomery Scott, whose family were the inspiration for The Philadelphia Story. While the Scott home was certainly replete with all manner of art and antiques, I did a double take when I peeked into a small upstairs bedroom. Awkwardly placed on green wall to wall carpet lay one of the most unusual and aesthetically pleasing rugs I had ever seen. Close inspection, study and research confirmed my suspicions as to its standout status in the pantheon of early 19th century weavings, as did the extensive number of pre-auction bidder inquiries from far and wide. The sale of this special rug provided great satisfaction for me as an appraiser and serves as proof positive that yes, there are still undiscovered gems in the antiques universe and I have had the great fortune of handling the sale of many of them.
David Weiss serves as a Senior Vice President of Freeman's, and heads the European Art & Old Masters department. He specializes in 19th & 20th Century European Paintings & Sculpture, 19th & 20th Century European Drawings & Prints, Old Master Paintings & Sculpture, Old Master Drawings & Prints, and Maritime & Sporting Art.
Mr. Weiss joined Freeman's in 2002 after serving as Vice President at a Washington, D.C. auction house for nearly 14 years. Prior to entering the field, he was an assistant to the director of a major gallery in his native Washington, D.C. Based on the continuing demand for works of European paintings and sculpture in the art market, Mr. Weiss was able to establish Freeman's European Arts & Old Masters department.
Joining the cast in season 12, he appears regularly as an appraiser of paintings on the popular PBS series Antiques Roadshow. Mr. Weiss is also an adjunct professor at Drexel University where he teaches a course on the business of art.