An exciting fine-art discovery - a fresh-to-the-market late-1920s oil-on-canvas painting by Taos Art Colony luminary Victor Higgins (1884-1949) - will headline Mapes Auctioneers' September 30 auction.
An old family piece, the 27- by 30-inch artwork depicts a Native American woman in front of an adobe building with a vine-covered column in the foreground.
It was purchased directly from the artist approximately 80 years ago and passed through descent to the consignor, who is the original owner's great-nephew. The painting has never before appeared at auction or been offered for sale.
"The Higgins came from a retired gentleman who lives less than a mile from our gallery," said David Mapes, owner of Mapes Auctioneers.
"He walked into my office one day and said he and his wife were moving to Colorado and had two paintings they wanted to sell. The other painting was nice, but when I saw the Higgins, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was similar to a smaller painting by the artist that sold at Christie's a few years ago for over $400,000."
Mapes recalls that he told the consignor, "That's a very good painting," to which the consignor replied, "How good?"
Mapes then delivered the news that, in his opinion, it was worth more than $100,000, adding that the auction record for a Victor Higgins painting is $769,000. "The consignor was stunned," Mapes said.
Several identifications are written on the artwork's stretcher - the name "Ruth" and the notation "Victor Higgins $600." Mapes said it is likely that the original owner made the purchase prior to the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
"From what the consignor tells me, his great-uncle was an art aficionado who once served as director of the Municipal Art League of Chicago.
He was also an attorney who lost a great deal of money when the stock market crashed. It's unlikely that he would have been buying art after incurring major financial losses, so we think the painting may have been purchased in 1928 or 1929," Mapes said.
According to Mapes, Higgins was a visionary in search of "the real America" and moved to New Mexico around 1915, when Taos was still an isolated village with dirt roads. "He was fascinated by the native people of Taos and became both a permanent resident and a member of the Taos Society of Artists, in 1917."
The Higgins painting has been examined by a major art restorer who works with museums, Mapes said, and it was determined that the painting has never been cleaned or restored.
"It is in original condition and in a nice period frame that may be the original," Mapes said. The painting will be offered with a $200,000-$400,000 estimate."