The following is what we have found, written by Michael Ivankovich, a collector, author, dealer and auctioneer specializing in early 20th century hand-colored photography and prints.
Does anyone know what year this was posted?
William Henry Chandler… America’s Foremost Pastel Artist
“In our travels looking for early 20th c. hand-colored photography and prints we see a wide variety of original art including oils, watercolors, and pastels. Without a doubt we see more original pastels signed “Chandler” in the open market today than nearly any other form of early 20th c. original art.
Who was Chandler? If you try to research Chandler you will probably find very little written about him. Our 1994-95 three-volume copy of Davenports which lists 130,000+ artists doesn’t even mention a William Henry Chandler. Nor does our 1998 ADEC Art Price Index, our Huxford’s Fine Art Value Guide, or our Currier’s Price Guide to American Art at Auction. And not until our 1999 Davenport’s do we find a very minor reference to this artist. Our 2000 ADEC Art Price Index still doesn’t mention William Henry Chandler.
We first became interested in Chandler when a friend acquired one for a modest amount in the mid 1980’s. Unable to find any background information on this Chandler, we by chance found a letter in the Maine Antiques Digest (MAD) “The Meeting Place”(August, 1988) which discussed Chandler and mentioned a 32-page booklet that had just been published on the artist. We ordered it, read it, and then pretty much filed it away. Our primary interest at the time was hand-colored photography and we assumed that Chandler pastels would soon move out of our price range.
We re-discovered Chandler as we began our expanded research into the much broader early 20th c. print market. And somewhat surprisingly, their price hadn’t increased all that much. Although we found a small core of individuals who had been actively accumulating Chandler pastels & prints, most people still had no idea who Chandler was.
Why, when seemingly everything else worth collecting in the antiques & collectibles market has skyrocketed in price, would Chandler pastels still remain un-discovered by the mainstream market? We suspect that it is because collectors typically collect “the name”. And since there was no other written documentation on Chandler anywhere else except for the extremely limited distribution of the 1988 Chandler booklet, most people simply passed his work by, or refused to pay any serious money for it, assuming that there wasn’t much of a market for it.
In our opinion, this is all about to change. Very Soon.
To find out what changes had occurred within the Chandler market in the past 10 years I took a chance and wrote a letter to Mr. Peter Neely, the initial Chandler Researcher and Author of the original 1988 “Chandler – Early American Pastel Artist” booklet. Somewhat surprisingly, he was still at the same address and he responded to my letter. We exchanged a few more letters, he answered many of my questions, and he provided me with an addendum to his original Chandler research.
Here is the story on William Henry Chandler…America’s Foremost Pastel Artist. William Henry Chandler (1854-1928) was born on June 9, 1854 in New York City. One of seven children born to Mr. & Mrs. Asa Byram Chandler, they lived in Elizabeth NJ, East Orange NJ, and Summit NJ as he was growing up. Born into a deeply religious Christian household, William displayed an interest in art during his youth but had other interests as well. A hunting accident early in his life left him with a lifelong limp. And a strong religious belief remained with him for his entire life.
As a young man Chandler moved to Chicago and obtained artistic work as a cameo engraver in a pearl button manufacturing business. While in Chicago he met and married his first wife, Jennie Freeman. Together they had three children (Kathleen, Annabel, and Nellie). Tragedy struck the Chandler household hard as Nellie died when only a few months old. And then Chandler’s wife Jennie died shortly thereafter from typhoid fever. With his wife gone and two remaining children to raise, Chandler returned to northern New Jersey where he lived for the rest of his life and raised his daughters with the help of his sister.
The Art of William Henry Chandler
Starting around 1887 Chandler began producing his original art as an alternative to the larger-scale print runs of Currier & Ives, Taber-Prang, and other major print-makers of the time. Chandler operated under the trade name of “W.H. Chandler and Co.” in New York City’s Lower Manhattan, a business that he ran with his brother, Frank Chandler (1857-1912). William Chandler was responsible for creating the original art while Frank was responsible for the framing, packing, shipping, and at times, for retail and wholesale art sales. Although his business started small, it eventually grew to where he was employing nearly 20 people at its peak.
Most artistic work took place in a large open room called “The Loft” where up to 20 easels were usually set up at any given time. A variety of employees could be working on up to 3 easels concurrently. Some artists worked directly in the studio while others worked out of their homes on a per-picture basis. The vast majority of the studio’s output was in the form of pastel chalk art, although oils, watercolors, and charcoals were occasionally sold as well.
The chalk used on Chandler pastels was imported from France in a variety of colors. A Chandler employee then blended these imported colors into a wide variety of bright and pleasing pastel colors, adding a bonding liquid, and then molding the chalks into easily-usable pastel sticks. The same employee prepped the various sized pastel boards before use, preparing them with glue and sand so the final pastel colors would adhere better. After the picture was completed by the artist, it would be sprayed with a fixative to help the chalk to adhere better, and then usually sent to be framed by Frank.
Most Chandler pastels come in the form of landscapes. Although supposedly modeled after the rivers and mountains of New York or New England, in my opinion many seem to be modeled after places much farther away. Most landscapes feature some form of water such as a lake, stream, river, or waterfalls. Mountains were usually included, often with another focal point such as a cabin, house, trees, mill, boats, cottages, etc. Flying birds or sailboats were often added in the distance for visual effect.
Chandler’s most uncommon scenes include such topics as floral still lifes, fruit bowls, and hanging wild game such as fish or rabbits. We have even seen a still life with a fish bowl on a table. Chandler ocean seascapes and foreign scenes are also considered rare.
Chandler pastels were sold through art stores, art dealers, gift shops and department stores such as Marshall Fields, Sears, Higbee’s and The May Company in the United States, and through Simpson’s, Eaton’s, and Hudson Bay in Canada. Chandler prints were sold through the Taber-Prang print catalog and through various calendar and print publishers. Initial sales contacts were made by Frank Chandler, other sales representatives, and often by Chandler himself.
As his reputation grew, Chandler exhibited his work at the 1900-01 International Exposition in Paris. His name appeared on the membership list of the prestigious Century Association of New York, among other professional groups. A signed Chandler pastel even hangs today in the Royal British Columbia Museum Parliament Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Between 1917-1918 Chandler spent a limited time in Canada producing his work. Apparently around that time Canada had levied a 25% import tax on certain American goods which made it prohibitively expensive to import certain goods from the U.S. into Canada. Some American businesses attempted to set up a Canadian subsidiary in order to avoid this import tax (e.g., Wallace Nutting briefly set up a Canadian operation). However, Chandler’s Canadian operation was short-lived and he returned to New York after only a few months.
Chandler Lithographic Prints
Original pastel art obviously cost more and had a much more limited distribution than machine-produced prints. At the turn of the century Chandler developed several arrangements with certain lithographers and print makers whereby some of his original pastels would be converted into art prints, calendar prints, or other print form. Between 1887-1903, Chandler’s work was produced as color or chromolithograph prints by such publishers as Hallen and Weiner (NY), Joseph Hoover (Phila), and Mueller and Lucksinger Co. (NY). His work appeared as machine-produced prints in the Taber-Prang Art Catalog as well. Art prints were often 15×20″ in size, although many were cropped over the years to fit into specific frames. Calendar prints and other print forms were usually produced in a multitude of sizes.
And although logic would dictate that Chandler prints should be far more common than Chandler pastels, that has not been my experience. Although in my travels I tend to see more original Chandler prints than pastels, Chandler prints do seem to be relatively uncommon in today’s market, probably for two reasons. First, the vast majority of turn-of-the-century prints have been discarded, either because of damage or because their initial low price meant they weren’t highly prized by the original owners. Very few people ever discard original art. Secondly, often times the Chandler name was often omitted from the print by the publisher, or cropped off during subsequent framing and re-framings, thereby making the print less valuable or collectible.
Either way, you should recognize that Chandler prints are not nearly as collectible or valuable as Chandler pastels. And although it’s hard to believe, an unexpectedly large percentage of collectors and dealers don’t know the different between an original pastel or a chromolithograph print. I have been in many dealers booths where a beautiful Chandler pastel was priced lower than a Chandler print so beware…bargains are still out there.
Some Observations on Chandler Pastels
ORIGINALITY: All original Chandler pastels are unique; no two are exactly alike. It would be our opinion that Chandler himself probably set the standards for most scenes, perhaps drawing an original model picture that the other artists were supposed to follow as closely as possible. However, since each Chandler pastel is an original piece or art, and although certain images may look similar, each is unique and you will always find subtle differences between similar looking works.
CATEGORIES AND RARITY: Chandler pastels fall into several primary categories. In my opinion, these categories, from the most common to the most unusual, would include: – Landscapes with water and mountains - Landscapes with mountains but without water - Landscapes without mountains or water - Landscapes including buildings (other than distant cabins) - Still Lifes, with Fruit, Wild Game, or Flowers - Foreign Scenes (eg, English thatch-roofed cottages) - Ocean or Seascape Scenes, with or without boats
TITLES: Most Chandler pastels seem to be untitled. Whereas Chandler prints would have been given a title by the publisher to assist in sales & marketing, we have seen little evidence that most original Chandler pastels carried any specific title when sold.
FRAME AND PASTEL SIZES: Pastel sizes were usually large format. Although we have seen a few in sizes as small as 8×12″ or smaller, most were in the 14×18″, 16×20″, 20×24″ size, or larger. And it was quite common to over-mat a pastel thereby requiring an even larger frame. Quite often Chandler pastels were framed in large ornate frames, which more often than not are damaged today.
SIGNED VS. UN-SIGNED CHANDLER PASTELS: In our opinion there are a significant number of “Un-Signed” original Chandler pastels still in circulation. According to Peter Neeley, when Chandler pastels were produced in pairs, usually only one was signed. And since most “pairs” have been broken up over the last 100 years, that would mean many original Chandlers are un-signed today. And although Chandler himself most likely signed all of his own art, it would also be our opinion that a fair number of original Chandler pastels completed by one of his employees may have left the studio un-signed.
PRICES: If you look hard you might still find an occasional Chandler pastel for under $100, although that is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence. I would generally say that most Chandler pastels today are priced within the $200-$400 range, although sometimes better & rarer pieces in the best condition will bring $500 or more. However keep in mind that condition is extremely important as it relates to value and only the rarest pieces in the best condition will bring top dollar. Common pieces in average-to-below average condition will be worth considerably less.
Most Chandler pastels are signed in one of five different ways: 1) Chandler (far and away the most common form of signature) 2) W.H. Chandler 3) Wm. H. Chandler 4) W.H.C. 5) And, as mentioned earlier, when done in pairs usually only one picture was signed
Did Chandler himself sign each and every pastel that was ever produced in his studio? Personally I have seen a wide variety of Chandler signatures in my travels, seemingly not all signed by the same hand. I specifically posed that question to Peter Neeley and his response was that Chandler himself did indeed sign all pictures, and that he doubted whether the Chandler employees were ever allowed to sign the Chandler name. His opinion is backed up by comments from the Chandler family. Whether signed by Chandler himself, or periodically by one of his key employees, any piece of art signed “Chandler” came to connote a quality pastel drawing of a specific style and vintage.
Problems Facing Chandler Pastels
Unfortunately, 100-year old pastels are much more fragile than oils or canvases and face a myriad of problems that sometimes need to be addressed, some of which include:
WOOD BACKING: Many original Chandler pastels were backed with several pieces of soft wood which may have made sense in the short term, but have caused significant damage in the long-term. The biggest problem caused by the wooden backs is what I call “acid burn”. The wood’s chemical content has literally leaked through the pastel board, usually near the cracks between the individual wooden pieces, and now appears as a darkening on the image itself. What should be done? We would recommend that the wood be immediately removed and replaced with some type of acid-free backing which will prevent any further deterioration. Whether you should seek out some type of pastel conservator to remedy the image deterioration will depend upon your personal preferences. More often than not any restoration cost may exceed your original purchase price so this will be an individual decision.
STAINS, TEARS & IMAGE BLEMISHES: Because of the age and fragility of the pastel, quite often there is image damage, ranging from relatively minor to majorly significant. As a rule of thumb, we would recommend that you stay away from anything having any serious damage. Minor damage can sometimes be removed with cropping or professional image restoration. Just be reminded that any restored image will usually be worth less than an un-restored piece.
PASTEL COMING INTO CONTACT WITH THE GLASS: After nearly 100 years of being in its original frame it is quite common for the pastel to meet the glass, thereby leaving a small pastel smudge on the glass. This is a very common problem and the smudged pastel is easily removable. When replacing the old backing it is very easy to Windex the glass before carefully replacing the pastel and acid-free backing into the frame. And more often than not, the improvement in beauty will be remarkable.
CRUMBLING OR DAMAGED FRAMES: Seemingly most original Chandler pastels were framed within large and elaborate frames which now after nearly 100 years have become damaged. This damage is usually in the form of broken corners, damaged ornamentation, or edge flaking or chips. In our opinion we would prefer to keep the Chandler within its original frame. Sometimes Old English will do the trick. However, since the frame is a major key to the pastel’s beauty, we are not adverse to replacing an unsightly frame with one that will restore its beauty. Where possible we try to locate another period frame of comparable size but when that is impossible, we sometimes prefer a newer frame that complements the beauty rather than leaving it in its original and unsightly frame. This is a matter of personal taste and I would recommend that you proceed in the manner that will enable you to enjoy your Chandler pastel in the best way possible.
IT’S OKAY TO CLEAN YOUR PASTEL: Although some may disagree with us, we wholeheartedly believe that it is acceptable to take a pastel apart, clean the glass, re-sprig the pastel back into a cleaned frame, and then add a new paper backing to insure that no new dirt or dust returns beneath the glass. As purists, we would prefer a beautiful, original, and untouched picture. As realists, we have come to recognize that most Chandlers need a little cleaning in order to restore their original brilliant look.
Chandler & William M. Thompson… The Closing Chapter
William Henry Chandler died on February 26, 1928 and was buried at the Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey. Chandler had lived his entire life as a devout Christian, a great humanitarian, and had spent his entire life dedicated to God’s work. While in Chicago, he worked with small children in a mission school; while working in New York, he continued his humanitarian work with the derelicts and downtrodden in New York’s Bowery district. He was very active in the affairs of the Oakes Memorial Methodist Church while he was living; they saw fit to honor William Henry Chandler in 1964, 36 years after his death, for his fine work in establishing their Sunday School and for his many other accomplishments. Upon his death, Chandler’s business was purchased by another name that you may recognize…William McMurray Thompson, whose pictures are often confused with R. Atkinson Fox. Thompson had started as a clean-up boy in Chandler’s studio, later apprenticed under Chandler, and then he purchased the entire studio upon Chandler’s death in 1928. But the story of W. J. Thompson will have to wait until another column.”