A man named Oliver Chanler didn’t think much of anything about the painting that hung inside his parent’s library in Geneseo, N.Y.
George Washington was always “just there,” he said.
However, after his mother died 10 years ago appraisers identified the canvas as an original painting of the first president of the United States, drawn by Washington’s most famous portraitist, Gilbert Stuart.
“I thought it was probably a copy and that there were probably lots of them,” Chanler said. “But it wasn’t a copy. It was the real thing.”
Chanler, 65, plans to auction the painting March 27. “It’s not like it’s a painting of an ancestor,” said Chanler, who is hoping a museum purchases the artwork.
The painting is expected to fetch $200,000 to $300,000, said Sam Cottone, owner of Cottone Auctions in Geneseo, which will oversee the sale. It is particularly valuable because the painting has not been altered in any way.
“No restoration, no cleaning, nothing,” Chanler said. “I would suspect that’s because no one thought it was of great value.”
Cottone, who has been in the business for 30 years, said he never doubted the painting’s authenticity. He said the canvas, stretcher and frame fit the time period, and a few of Stuart’s artistic trademarks, including light wisps of hair across the subject’s face and a darkening around the mouth, are present.
Cottone said Chanler’s family history — he is the great-great-great-great-grandson of John Jacob Astor, the United States’ first multimillionaire — added to the painting’s credibility. Although it is possible that Astor was the original owner of the painting, Chanler can definitively trace his family’s ownership only to his great-grandfather, John Winthrop Chanler, who served in the House of Representatives.