Country Politicians

As told by Robert C. Vose, Jr. (1911-1998)

George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879)Country Politicians
Collection of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

Mr. and Mrs. Smith of Tawanda, Pennsylvania (a young couple in their 20s) called us and said that Professor Maurice Bloch of Los Angeles, author of the two-volume work on Bingham, had suggested they get in touch with us regarding the possible sale of a painting by Bingham. They had bought a small brick house, including the furnishings, for $10,000. They both worked, and Mrs. Smith wanted something to decorate her office. She took down a small painting from the second floor hall and found an old label reading “George Caleb Bingham” on the back. Curious, she asked the local library if they knew anything about him. They didn’t but called the Philadelphia Library. They found Bloch’s books and gave the Smiths his address. They got in touch with him and hence with us (happily!).

I flew down there the next day and took the painting back with me on consignment. We cleaned the piece and estimated its worth at considerably more than ten times the value of the Smith’s house. On January 20th, 1972 we sold Country Politicians to John D. Rockefeller III, who later gifted it along with much of his collection to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Naturally, a thank-you check was sent to Professor Bloch.

This story once more proves money to be the root of all evil. The Smiths’ friends began to look coolly at them now that they were wealthier, so they moved up to northern Maine, were soon divorced, and doubtless wished they had never discovered that little label.

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