2015-10-16 / Front Page

‘Street in Kennebunkport’ for sale

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


The painting “Street in Kennebunkport,” left, done in 1924 by C. K. Chatterton, is expected to fetch as much as $15,000 when it goes up for sale at a Detroit auction house Oct. 18. Chatterton (1880-1973) logged 33 years as an art professor at Vassar College in New York and was a summer member of the Ogunquit art colony from 1920 to 1948, painting extensively across Southern and coastal Maine. Above, the best guess of several people shown the painting is that the 1924 scene depicts these buildings, at the corner of Spring and Temple streets. Do you have a better idea? Email news@inthesentry.com. (Courtesy/Duke Harrington photo) The painting “Street in Kennebunkport,” left, done in 1924 by C. K. Chatterton, is expected to fetch as much as $15,000 when it goes up for sale at a Detroit auction house Oct. 18. Chatterton (1880-1973) logged 33 years as an art professor at Vassar College in New York and was a summer member of the Ogunquit art colony from 1920 to 1948, painting extensively across Southern and coastal Maine. Above, the best guess of several people shown the painting is that the 1924 scene depicts these buildings, at the corner of Spring and Temple streets. Do you have a better idea? Email news@inthesentry.com. (Courtesy/Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNKPORT — Robin John has been in love with a street in Kennebunkport for most of her adult life. The irony, however, is that she’s never seen the actual location. In fact, she’s never so much as set foot in the town.

Still, the street has held a special place in her heart, and now it’s for sale.

What John is selling is a 1924 painting by New York artist Clarence Kerr Chatterton, entitled “Street in Kennebunkport.” It’s a big picture, 28-by-36 inches, and the price it’s expected to fetch is no small thing. Detroit-based Du- Mouchelles Auction House, which will put the oil-on-canvas under the gavel this Sunday, Oct. 18, has estimated the late-impressionist street scene could bring as much as $15,000.

When asked if he was at all surprised by that figure, Rob Elowitch, owner of Barridoff Galleries in Portland, barely blinked.

“No, not at all,” he said. “Five years ago, it probably would have brought a lot more.”

In 2007, another local scene painted by Chatterton in 1922 – a 12-by-16 inch oil-on-board entitled “Regatta at Kennebunkport” – was sold by Christie’s for $25,000.


Robin John is seen holding her daughter, Alexis, in this 1993 home photo, with the C.K. Chatterton painting, “Street in Kennebunkport,” on prominent display, as it has been in the John home since 1986. (Courtesy photo) Robin John is seen holding her daughter, Alexis, in this 1993 home photo, with the C.K. Chatterton painting, “Street in Kennebunkport,” on prominent display, as it has been in the John home since 1986. (Courtesy photo) But even with a recession-driven downturn in the art market, and little likelihood that figure will be broken, Chatterton remains “very collectible,” Elowitch said.

But even so, and despite the fact life circumstances compel her to sell her painting after 29 years, John says the value of the work was never what drew her to it, or what made it so dear to her over the years.

John, 64, found the painting while accompanying her then fiancée on business trip to New York City in 1986. On a leisurely afternoon stroll up Madison Avenue, they found it offered for more than $9,000 at the Forum Gallery and, despite the price, the couple quickly snatched it up. John says she recognized the town named in the painting from news reports of George H.W. Bush, who was still vice president at the time.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh that’s where the vice president vacations.” But that’s not why we bought it,” she recalled. “I’m not a religion person, but it spoke to me. We had to have it. I just loved the sunlight in the picture and how Chatterton painted as if you could almost feel the sun warm your back.”

And so the Johns took the painting back to their home in Atlanta, giving it a place of honor over the fireplace mantle. That November, they were married. But then tragedy struck. Just nine months after they were married, John’s husband had a stroke. They had moved to San Francisco, but the stroke forced them back to Atlanta. Then, another stroke two years later left John’s husband severely disabled and unable to speak.

By that time, the couple had a daughter and John eventually moved the family to her native Michigan, to gain added support from her sisters. Her husband eventually passed, 12 years after his first stroke, when their daughter was 7 and he was just 53. After her daughter graduated from high school, John moved again, to a Chicago suburb.

“For most of my married life, I was a caregiver to my husband and, with each of these moves and homes, this painting had a prominent place in my house and life,” she said. “My husband and I both just loved this painting. It always reminds me of our better days, when we first found it, when he was healthy and we were happy. It has brought me great peace and a sense of joy, to look at it and imagine when life was simpler and peaceful, as it showed a lovely New England town as we imagined Kennebunkport to be.”

Still, as much as the Chatterton painting has meant to her, John said she now has to let it go.

“At this point in my life, as much as it breaks my heart, I need to sell this,” she said. “I have decided to sell the painting and I genuinely hope the new owners gain as much pleasure from it as we have over the years.”

Most locals who have been shown images of the painting recently say it appears to depict buildings at the corner of Spring and Temple streets. Several women in period dress, and a young girl pushing a stroller, are seen enjoying the sun.

Chatterton would have been quite familiar with such an image of Kennebunkport. Indeed he did a whole series of paintings of the town.

Born in Newburgh, New York, in 1880, Chatterton made up his mind early to become an artist, much to the chagrin of his father, who thought his son would starve, but nonetheless sprang for lessons.

Because illustration was where the money was at the time, Chatterton entered the New York School of Art in 1899. There, he became fast friends with eventual greats of the illustrating field, including Rockwell Kent, Gifford Beal and Edward Hopper.

However, his friends recognized a talent for fine art in Chatterton, and pushed him into the oils. In 1915, based mostly on his friendship with the famous illustrators, Chatterton landed a job as artist-in-residence at Vasser College, in Poughkeepsie, New York, then an all-girls school.

Chatterton went on to teach at Vasser for 33 years, and his greatest claim to fame may have come early in his career, when he introduced his female students to the then-scandalous notion of drawing from life models who posed in the nude. The Vasser administration was spectacularly unimpressed, insisting that Chatterton’s classes be strictly monitored. They also pushed back when Vasser waged an ultimately successful fight to score academic credit for graduates of his class, a battle that famously prompted one faculty member to snort, “We might as well give credit for a course in plumbing.”

From 1920 to 1948, Chatterton spent his summers as part of the Ogunquit art colony, producing hundreds of paintings of the Kennebunks region. A website dedicated to Chatterton’s work quotes several art critics of his era, calling him, “a seminal figure in 20th century realism.”

Still, despite the volume of Chatterton’s work, and the high regard with which it was received, then and now, Elowitch says he was not an “important” artist.

“That’s because he was not innovative,” he explains. “But he was a fine painter and this [“Street in Kennebunkport”] is a good example, which gives a somewhat honest impression of the period. It shows a bit of late Impressionism – loosely painted, brightly painted, capturing some realism with loose brushstrokes.”

Having viewed the painting offered for sale, Elowitch says he “has no doubt” it is an authentic Chatterton.

“It’s very charming,” he said.

John has little interest in visiting Kennebunkport. After all, how could the real thing ever live up to the quaint little town that Chatterton’s work has conjured up in her mind for all these years. Still, she’s often wondered if the ladies in the picture were ever really there, maybe people Chatterton knew, or if he simply posed them on scene in his imagination. It a question her daughter often asked as well.

“My daughter also loved the painting and always wondered who the little girl with the stroller was in the painting,” John said. “When she got old enough to understand, I told her it was Barbara Bush as a young girl. She always thought that was funny.”

Now it just remains to be seen, how much one will pay for a “Street in Kennebunkport.”

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