October 19, 2016
For decades, an Elkhart family owned a painting – and a hidden treasure.
“Rayon de Soleil (Sunbeam),” painted in 1899 by French artist William Adolphe Bouguereau, sold for $1.1 million at Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati on Oct. 15. And an Elkhart law office was a link in the chain from family heirloom to seven-figure sale.
Tim Shelly, a lawyer with the law firm Warrick & Boyn, LLP helped connect the seller of the piece to the auction house.
“We’re happy to be part of this process,” he said of Warrick & Boyn. “A lot of times lawyers simply deal with a document in front of them – changing a word here, adding a word there, etc. One thing I’m proud of here at Warrick & Boyn is that we look at a bigger picture. This would be an example of that.”
According to Shelly, the seller of the painting is an Elkhart woman who wishes to remain anonymous. Her late husband was related to C.G. Conn, founder of Elkhart’s renowned Conn Musical Instruments. Conn bought Bouguereau’s painting in either 1909 or early 1910, and it remained in his family ever since.
The seller’s husband passed away several years ago, Shelly said, and she was wanting to downsize. She is a close friend of Shelly and his wife, Meg, and sought advice on what to do with the painting. With the goal of securing the best result, Shelly encouraged her to think bigger and broader than a local auction house.
The Shellys’ friends include serious art collectors. One of them viewed the Bouguereau piece in Elkhart and deemed it significant. About a year later, the seller was ready to part with the painting. Shelly and his associate helped steer the painting’s owner in the right direction.
“The auctioneer was a friend of a friend,” Shelly said.
In fact, the auctioneer was Wes Cowan. The Cowan’s Auctions owner is familiar to viewers of the PBS program “Antiques Roadshow.”
“He’s one of the experts who comment on the pieces people bring in,” Shelly said.
Prior to the sale, Cowan told The Elkhart Truth newspaper that the painting could sell for between $300,000 and $500,000. Cowan later informed Shelly that he believed the $1.1 million sale price was the highest received for a Bouguereau work in nearly five years.
“Rayon de Soleil” had not been publicly seen since Conn purchased it more than a century ago. Its whereabouts were a mystery in the art world. Shelly said that while Bouguereau kept extensive records of his works and to whom and where they were sold, this particular piece “was kind of lost out there.”
Looking to sell a painting that has been passed down in your family, but are unsure of its value? Shelly has some advice.
“I would touch base with a professional,” he said. “There are local museum curators and executive directors, respected art galleries, and restorers who can help. I would look beyond the normal local auctioneers who handle the typical variety of property.”
Shelly also encouraged making use of technology.
“With the Internet nowadays, there are great resources to do research on artists and their works,” he said. “Auction house sales are tracked, along with other public sales of artwork. There is generally a fee involved to access the database, but you can type in an artist’s name and find out, for example, the last 10 years’ worth of sales for an artist’s work and the sale amount.”
Warrick & Boyn, LLP, is a full-service law firm in Elkhart, Ind., that practices in all areas of business and corporate law. Areas of practice include commercial litigation, creditors’ rights and bankruptcy law, labor and employment law, defense litigation, securities law and regulation, worker’s compensation defense, education and school law, EEOC law, employee benefits law and pension plans, environmental law and regulation, tax and estate planning, municipal law, and property and real estate law. The firm’s clients are located primarily in northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan, and most of the attorneys are licensed to practice in both Indiana and Michigan.