James Hamilton (1819-1878) was an Irish-American marine painter who, in his day, was reasonably well known. He is credited with painting one of the first American seascapes, The Sea at Atlantic City, in 1868. Now, though, auction prices for his works are all over the map — and appear to be sinking. Just three years ago his pieces were routinely fetching $5,000-$12,000 (still not much). More recently they are barely scraping $2,500 – and the quality of the pictures going now doesn’t seem any lower in the recent auctions. Hamilton’s works are in at least 17 US museums, including the NY Metropolitan, Smithsonian, and major Museums of Boston, Phili, Brooklyn and Newark. There was a book written about him in 1966, which I have just ordered.
After immigrating from Ireland as a child in the 1820s/30s, Hamilton went back to England in 1854 to study works of JMW Turner and other landscape artists. You can certainly see a Turner-esque influence in his work. Here’s a Hamilton “Philadelphia Harbor” (1864) that went for $9400 at the Dorotheum in Vienna in October 2013. The Dorotheum auctions tend to be pricey (5 figures) so perhaps this work got an updraft from that. Size is 68 cm x 107 cm, which is pretty big.
The one below, which is almost identical to the one above, went for $2,500 at Cowan’s in Cincinnati just a few days ago. (I bought it.) That was the top of the expected range of $1500-2500. The same picture failed to sell at James D. Julia in February of this year, when the expected range was $3,000-$5,000. So what’s going on here? Well, it could be that art auctions were weak in February because the stock market had just plunged in January and people with money were not thinking about art. I suppose it could be a fake – i.e. a knockoff of the one above. That said, the condition report from the James D. Julia catalogue says the picture below has had some inpainting and suffers craquelature (both signs of age). Plus there is a tag on the back saying “Brookyln Museum loan.” Another possibility is simply that the one below is smaller (48 cm x 73 cm) and all else being equal bigger works go for more.
This Hamilton below sold for $5,500 at Freeman’s in Philadelphia in December 2013. That was well above the expected range of $2,000-3,000.
Hamilton definitely had a thing for doing similar scenes over and over. This one here is the Chesapeake Bay, with Baltimore in the background. It is 40cm x 55cm and sold for $3,500 at Shannon’s in October, 2015. That was below the bottom of the expected range of $5,000-$7,000.
This is Hamilton:
– Mike Churchill