It all started with a portrait I inherited when I purchased two large, gold gilt frames for a project at the gallery. Edwin came inside one of them, and the owner wasn't interested in keeping the portrait of the early 19th century gentleman, as she had no idea who he was. The other frame in the pair had a portrait of her grandmother, which of course she kept.
The intended project for the frames never developed, and they sat in the basement for the last ten years collecting dust. Meanwhile, Edwin hid out in the frameshop storage bin, occasionally unearthed by a curious employee wondering who he was. I hung him on the wall from time to time, as I liked his calm demeanor and handsome attendance. More recently, my friend Maggie suggested he really did deserve a name… "Edward, maybe," I said, to which she replied, "no, he's definitely an Edwin." As Edwin was the name of a dear cousin I lost to AIDS in the 80's, I had to concur. Edwin it was.
I carried him to my office, and tucked him behind the file cabinet, peaking out just enough to seek his inspiration from my desk. He was my muse, I decided. He looked successful, confident, sure of himself, but gentle and kind. He remained there until Diane Bitting, Lancaster Newspapers, spied him and suggested we collaborate to see if we could discover the story behind the painting and his true identity.
A bit of a spit wash in the lower right hand corner revealed a signature and a date, but the painting was so dirty, we couldn't read it. I called Jeff Johnson, art restorer, and Claire Giblin, art appraiser, who have done quite a bit of work for us in the past, and they agreed to meet with us at the gallery.
With the chemicals and tools of an experienced conservator, and test cleaning a few spots to ascertain the stability of the paint, Jeff cleaned the area of the signature. "Looks like a "B", or a "D" at the beginning, last name, Tyler, maybe? And the date? It's either 1916, or 1918, I think…"
A google search later, I find an ad in The Art Interchange for "B. H. Tyler, Portrait Artist" and excitedly pass this on to Jeff and Claire. Late that evening, I get an email from Jeff, telling me his name is "Bayard Henry Tyler."
Claire confirmed this, and sent us more information from auction records and museum exhibition documentation. B.H. Tyler, 1855-1931 was not only a portrait artist, but an accomplished landscape artist in the Hudson River School region. Later she finds his portraiture in an Artist Members exhibition in 1927 at the Lotos Club, New York, New York, and a commissioned work in the collection of Scranton Public Library (Albright Memorial) of Joseph J. Albright, painted in 1902.
Earlier this week, I received this image from Jeff of the cleaning and restoration in process at his studio. Look closely at the upper right corner, coming through the middle of his face, and you can visibly see the difference a cleaning makes! Now, if we could only figure out who Edwin really is….