Sharon Cushman said she knew that the landscape painting passed down in her family was worth a pretty penny.
But it wasn’t until the Mesa woman was helping her parents move across the country and insuring their belongings that she learned just how valuable it was.
“It was my grandparents’, and my grandfather didn’t buy anything cheap,” said Cushman. “My parents and I knew it was done by a famous painter, but none of us had any real idea.”
The appraiser told Cushman that the painting could be attributed to the late Thomas Moran, a famous American painter and graphic artist known for his landscape paintings.
Moran, who lived from 1837 to 1926, is best remembered for his idealized views of the American West.
Today, some of his original creations sell for millions.
Cushman is putting the painting up for auction at EJ’s Auction and Appraisal on Friday, Aug. 30, with a listing value between $75,000 and $100,000.
Although Owner of EJ’s Auction & Appraisal Erik Hoyer said he believes the painting is an original, he is leaving it up to the public to decide.
“When it comes to authenticating pieces of art, it can be quite a struggle,” said Hoyer. “In my research, I have every reason to believe it is an original — I believe it’s the real deal.”
“When we say we are attributing it to this artist, we are leaving it completely up to the public to make the determination,” he continued. “What is going to make the determining factor is when I’ve got it on the auction block and I am taking bids on it.”
Hoyer added that the age of the canvas and overall construction of the frame are also convincing.
The framed oil painting, titled “King’s Canyon,” measures 43 ½ inches high and 31 ½ inches wide and features an idyllic waterfall scene.
A narrow strip of water runs down the side of a cliff and into a stream, while large boulders and fallen trees decorate the water.
The hues are cool tones, such as blues, grays and dark greens, while the frame exudes a shimmery gold-brown finish.
The attributed painting also displays what is believed to be Moran’s signature on the lower right corner.
“It is done in his style, with the M and the arrow coming down from it,” said Hoyer.
Moran was the first American painter to capture the grandeur of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Born in England, Moran immigrated to Philadelphia with his family when he was seven years old.
He was briefly apprenticed to a wood graver before he dipped his feet into painting.
The turning point in Moran’s career though, as outlined on the museum’s website, didn’t come until 1871 — when he accompanied a government surveying expedition to Yellowstone as a guest artist.
Moran’s images of dramatic canyons, hot springs and geysers captured the imagination of the American public and helped bring about Yellowstone’s designation as American’s first national park.
Aside from his obvious talent, his determination and dedication to travel to remote locations to paint is a contributing factor to his work’s value, explained Hoyer.
“Other than him being recognized as a very talented artist, I think there is something to say when an artist is — especially in that time period — doing the type of traveling that he was, heading from east to west and the frontier,” he said, adding:
“It’s that type of stuff, setting out on a horse with a canvas and painting a waterfall — it adds to the desirability of having that artist’s work, knowing what he had to do to make it happen.”
A family heirloom for 60 years, “King’s Canyon” was first purchased by Cushman’s grandfather, Hugh Meinhardt, in 1959 from the Paul Metcalf Art Gallery in Los Angeles.
He then shipped the painting to his home in Quincy, Illinois, where he lived with his wife.
Meinhardt passed the painting down to his daughter, Carlene Meinhardt Geisler, in 1966 — she kept it in her personal collection until she passed in 2004.
The artwork then fell into Cushman’s hands, along with her cousin, Nell Sue.
Although Cushman said she is nostalgic for the painting, neither she nor her cousin have the space for it.
“I have no room for it, and my cousin doesn’t either,” she said. “My apartment is very tiny and I don’t want a big place to take care of anymore.”
“We’re just going into this with an open mind,” she continued. “But I hope it does sell.”
Cushman and her cousin will split whatever earnings they get from the painting.
Hoyer echoed Cushman’s sentiments, saying he is confident the painting will sell for more than its listing price.
“It could do millions — he’s [Moran] got prior records like that,” he said. “It would be fantastic for us obviously, and it would not shock me if it does go for a lot of money.”
“But again, the art world is a world all on itself,” he expressed.
A free preview for the special catalog auction is set from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at EJ’s from Aug. 23 to Aug 30.
The live auction will begin at 6 p.m. on Aug. 30.