Is it Really Jimmy?

Now back to Jimmy…
Over the last several years the Blue Coyote Gallery has received scores of inquiries from individuals claiming to have “original” Swinnerton paintings. Sometimes the caller(or emailer) is positive it is an original. Other times the inquirer acknowledges he or she cannot determine if it’s an original or a reproduction.

In nearly every case the potential seller believes the piece might be an original because brush strokes can be seen on the canvas.

 

James Swinnerton Palo Verde in Bloom 2
 

Palo Verde in Bloom

 

 

With just about any other painting by any other artist being able to discern strokes is a good indication a piece might indeed be an original. However, in yet another example of his originality, this is not the case with Jimmy’s work. In fact, if “brush strokes” can be easily seen it’s likely not a Swinnerton oil painting. (I’ll explain later why I put brush strokes in quotations.)

So my canned response to every inquirer is
1) “Without seeing the item in person I cannot tell if it is an original or a print.”
2) “For every ten people who have contacted me with Swinnerton “paintings”, only one out the ten (if that) have turned out to have original oil paintings.”
3) “If you can send digital photos to my email address, I will look for a similar image in my archive of Swinnerton reproductions. If I find a match with an image I have seen several times in the past, it is almost assuredly a print. However…(see number one to complete this sentence)”

 

James Swinnerton  Grand Canyon 28x33 unframed
Grand Canyon near Grandview by James Swinnerton (Note: in March of 2015 a well known regional auction house is offering one of these at auction. Since I know where the original oil is, it’s not for sale, and Swinnerton was never known to paint two scenes exactly the same all I can say is “Caveat Emptor!”)

 

The reactions range from requests to bring the piece to the gallery to unflattering comments about my judgment.

The latter response is rare. But when it does occur I have frequently seen the alleged “painting” listed on ebay shortly afterwards. Then some poor sap ends up paying thousands of dollars for a reproduction with a fair market value of less than $400 –if that.

Hopefully this will never happen to anyone reading this entry.
“Now, what was that deal about the brush strokes being in quotation marks,” you ask?

 

James Swinnerton Ironwood in Bloom
Desert Scene

 

In 1946 International Art Publishing Company of Detroit, Michigan published reproductions of twenty-four Swinnerton paintings in various sizes. According to Harold G. Davidson, the company was still marketing the reproductions as recently as the 1980s. The prints were nothing special, in fact they were just that…prints…offset lithos…reproductions on paper…blah…hum drum…gag me…why would anyone pay money for that?

OK, enough of the snooty art criticism.

 

Swinnerton Saguaros and Palo Verdes in Bloom unframed
Palo Verdes and Saguaros

 

If it had just stopped with the prints all the mass confusion I have witnessed over the years would have likely never taken place. However sometime in the early 1960s someone or some entity took many of the prints, pasted them canvas, and covered them with a thick layer of varnish to give the appearance of “brush strokes”.

To the untrained eye, these “enhanced reproductions” (as giclees with dabs of oil paint slapped on by the artist are called today…time for another “gag me” comment) look very much like original oil paintings.

I have no idea who performed the dastardly deed with the varnish, or even how many times they committed their crimes. A review of the “Good Taste Police” files reveals nothing.
But given my first-hand experience I can safely say the number far exceeds one hundred.

(Note: Swinnerton original paintings have VERY thin brush strokes which are very hard to discern, unlike the thick varnish strokes which can be seen on the enhanced prints.)

 

James Swinnerton Morning comes to Death Valley 2
Morning Comes to Death Valley

 

An anecdote: A well-known Scottsdale gallery owner once confided to me the prints were enhanced by Swinnerton himself. He claimed our friend Jimmy was a little short on cash later in life. Could be. Swinnerton lived to the age of 98. Therefore modifying the prints and selling them would be an easy way to raise some coin.

Of course, said gallery owner had no proof. His suspicion was all based on second hand information. “Speculation and conjecture, your honor! Surely our friend Jimmy would not engage in such deceitful behavior!”
Then again Jimmy could have very well have been the culprit. And he could have also told any and all buyers exactly what he was selling. Since I’ve never had a single inquiry on the subject come from an individual who purchased the piece directly, I can’t say.

 

James Swinnteron Ironwood and Saugauro
Saguaros and Ironwood

 

Well what has been determined by yours truly is that five out of the six images in this entry are enhanced prints. Can you tell which one is the original? (Hint: it’s the fifth one down from top.)

So the next time you see an “original oil painting by James Swinnerton” listed on ebay or anywhere else make sure to ask a lot of questions if you have any interest. Or check back and see if the image is identical to any of the photos above. If you see a similarity…you can figure it out.

11 thoughts on “Is it Really Jimmy?

  1. Gary, brush strokes simply being visible on a piece of art have nothing to do with its authenticity. I’m a painter and have made many stroke-for-stroke copies of well-known painters that you would have a hard time telling from the original unless you had an expert eye. Van Gogh for a good example. That’s what good copyists and art fakers do (altho I have never tried to pass off one of my copies as anything other than a copy).
    Dennis Kiernan

    1. John,
      I didn’t say brush strokes are an indication of “authenticity.” I said in most cases visible brush strokes are a sign the piece is an original oil painting. By your own admission your “stroke for stroke copies of well-known painters” are original oil paintings, even if they were not really created by the artist whose signature is on the canvas.
      Is it Really Jimmy? refers to the dozens and dozens of Swinnerton prints I’ve come across over the years that were “enhanced” to look like original oil paintings. With every single one of the prints I’ve never had any doubt the image was originally created by Jimmy.
      That being said I have seen original oils I am convinced are Swinnerton forgeries. However for the handful of artists whose work I do authenticate (which include Jimmy) I rely on a lot more than just brush strokes to debunk or confirm the work.
      But that’s another subject for another entry -one I’m actually working on right now.

      1. No worries. Authentication is a subject I love to discuss because it’s such an inexact science, as I’m sure you know. I might contact you at a future date to pick your brain a little on my authentication entry. I suspect it’s going to take some time to write.

  2. Thank you for the informative write-up. I have a 24 X 48 inch print of Mr. Swinnerton’s “Autumn Landscape with Storm Clouds and Barn” (No real title here??). It was printed and placed on board, nicely framed (done by a printing business in Boulder, Colorado, I do not know the year, but guess it was printed maybe 40 years ago). I admire all of his work.
    Look forward to your next journal entry.
    F. Pineda

    1. I can’t say for sure without seeing the image, but I believe your print’s subject matter is the remains of the Wetherill family ranch in Mancos, Colorado.
      As you may or may not know, Richard Wetherill was rounding up stray cows one snowy December day in 1888 in Mancos Canyon when he happened across the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde. As I mentioned several times in my earlier blog posts “Jimmy” was a very good friend of John and Louisa Wethrill. John also grew up on the ranch in Mancos.
      The original painting was made into a print also.

  3. Just recently discovering the artist. Instantly impressed with the unique style depicting places familiar to me growing up and traveling through these deserts.

    I acquired a print of The Blooming Desert, framed for a nominal amount locally in Phoenix metro area.

    As a lithographer operating offset printing presses for 20+ years I feel that simply suggesting to those attempting to find Jimmy, use a glass to magnify image. As half tone dots are my initial eliminating standard of determining print vs.
    original oil painting.

    Regardless I am feeling fortunate in obtaining my piece , and being introduced to Swinnerton works. Love the way the artist portrays gloominess, a haunted desert if you will.

    Will be forever looking for Jimmy.

    Thank you.

  4. Hello. I found a painting in my grandfathers attic. How can you tell if it is a print or the real thing. It feels smooth to touch, but it’s not perfectly flat. Thanks for the help 🙂

  5. I have desert study #2 that you call Palo Verde in Bloom with Swinnerton’s signature. obtained in Scottsdale , Is it the varnish type ? It appears to be brush strokes with thick type oil.

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