bruce collins

Purchased for $6 and later sold for $32,500

by Martin Willis

Back in the 1990s I went on a house call to see a past clerk of my father’s auctions. Louis Sochia was a pleasant man with a great sense of humor. He, his partners Charlie & Tom were selling their B & B (The Inn at Christian Shore) in Portsmouth, NH, and had some nice things to put in my next auction.

After viewing everything, we were at the top of the stairs, and I pointed and said, “How about that painting?” Louis and his partners laughed and Louis said, “You can buy that right now for $300.”  I thanked him and told him I would not do that, but instead would take it and do some research. It was a painting of a clown putting make-up on in a mirror. It stuck me as being masterful, but it was unsigned. There was something about it that made me think it was very good. Tom had bought a book on American artist, Walt Kuhn 1877-1949 and there were a lot of similarities. The next day, I brought it up to Bruce Collins in Kennebunk, Maine who I thought had a good eye and asked for his opinion.  He instantly agreed that it was by the artist and got out some books and showed me why he thought so.

I asked Bruce who would be the right person to look at it to make certain, and he told me to try Rob Ellowitch at Baridoff Galleries in Portland, Maine since he had represented the estate of the artist in the 1980s. I was also given the name of Terry Phillips of Cape Neddick, Maine as someone to contact. I called Rob and was on my way to Portland, Maine and found myself stopped for a disastrous pileup on I-95. I was stuck for hours in traffic and never made it to Barridoff’s. I stopped and called Terry Phillips who had inherited the estate of the artist’s daughter, Brenda Kuhn and drove to Cape Neddick to show him. He looked at it, pondered for awhile and finally said that he did not want to say one way or the other if the painting was by Kuhn or not. He was very willing to help and gave me a name and information of Bennard Perlman who could authenticate it for sure. After speaking to Bennard on the phone, I snapped some images and FedEx-ed them off to him the next day.

A few days later, I received a call from Bennard who spoke with an excited tone, “Not only is it by Walt Kuhn, but it is a self portrait of the artist!”  During the rest of the conversation, Bennard mentioned to me that it was important to know where the painting originated from.

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