Gollings Etching Signatures
Gary L. Temple
Taking the framed etching off the wall, I paused to look at it for something just caught my eye. There in the margin was not the normal cursive signature but the name of the artist printed in pencil. The title was in cursive on the left side of the margin and did not bother me but the printed name did. I was not sure of what I had just inspected and needed to find other examples. My client had purchased the work from a sales source other than a gallery. He had been the high bidder and he was proud of his efforts to obtain the work. The owner was credible and the work was worthy but I was still not sure.
In whatever market, integrity matters.
Auction law in Montana is very brief and covers two types. The auctioneer has to offer for sale by auction specifically at the beginning of a sale to establish allowing for a reserve. Another term which is poorly used is as is. If we used this term in the art gallery market, we would not have any clients. I pointed out to one auction source a definite Gollings forgery. The response I received was if the high bidder determined the painting was wrong then they would give them a refund.
When at an auction and one is not sure of an offered work, while the bidding is on is not the place to decide to bid. Do not rely on supposed auction estimates for often it becomes a game to encourage bidding. Proper research by a bidder should be done before the auction and not during it.
In the mid-1990's there became available on the market three or four unsigned etching impressions by Gollings of Wild and Ragged. At the time it did not trigger any flags on my part other than the comment to myself, why would someone purchase an unsigned work?
As the story goes, after the death of Gollings in 1932, the local Sheriff found Hans Kleiber, a good friend of the artist, attempting to cancel each of the etching plates in his studio. Hans Kleiber was instrumental in Gollings going into printmaking. Those same etching plates became the property of the Sheriff and years later were purchased by a Gollings collector.
Several years ago a relative of the same Gollings collector contacted me. The relative related to me how the plates had been printed and impressions distributed. The relative had contacted me as to the possibility of a resale of his impression and I declined.
A local art dealer in Sheridan, Wyoming had confronted me about a similar circumstance. For he had found an etching where the pencil signature in the margin was not cursive but printed. He told me flat out how he would not buy any etchings by Gollings with a printed name in the margin.
Late in the summer of 2014, a man contacted me with a question, Why was his Wild and Ragged different from the one we had on our website? I told him I could not answer the question until he emailed me some images.
Early in my career I had been given great advice about the analysis of artwork. Simply put, the signature area should be the last place one looked to evaluate a work. With the images sent from this man I like everyone else started looking first at the titling and signature but then backed up.
Almost immediately the intense inking of the plate by someone other than the artist was evident. The lack of definition of the impression in question showed in other areas. The etched name of the artist was set into the impression as if it had been taken from another source and reversed.
The individual attempting to do this printing did not even realize when copying the printed signature within the plate how it must be reversed for an etching. Notice the cant of the two “L” letters in the name of Gollings. Now when one questions the impression printed then they must go down to the margin area with even more doubts. Yes, the titling in pencil is close to an authentic titling but then why the need for the name of the artist to be printed? Simply put, this creative individual could not duplicate the cursive signature of the artist. These factors led me to the result of the impression having been pulled after the death of Gollings in 1932.
Again after reviewing my files I found it highly unlikely where the artist would have cursive signed the title area in the margin on the left side and the signature area in the margin on the right side, being printed. As with many printmaking artists, some would not sign the impression until they sold it out of the studio or sent it out to a gallery. This was a typical case with such artists as Frank W. Benson, Edward Borein and Richard Bishop.
No facts were conclusive so I had to rely on my files on the etchings of Gollings to summarize my efforts. My first consideration related to the differences in his signature area on each impression in the margin area. From my research files I found thirty-five impression examples where the signature was done in cursive writing. I also found six impression examples where the signature was printed. Those years where the signature was supposedly printed were five dated 1929 and one in 1928.
Early on with the first book on Gollings conflicting factors had been unanswered. As listed on pages 229 and 230 of Elling William Bill Gollings, A Cowboy Artist by William T. Ward and Gary L. Temple, there was stated a first and second state.
When compiling our first book on Gollings, I was not able to question the sources of some images. On page 229, the signature on the etching example of the artist was in cursive. On page 230, the signature of the artist on the impression was printed.
Sadly, the sales source who had sold this Wild and Ragged attempted to defend it. This sales source felt this impression in question was a second state. They felt the artist printed his name on the second state rather than in cursive and were done late in the printmaking career of Gollings. The printmaking career of Gollings was from 1926 to his death in 1932. The supposition of the artist printing his name later in his career does not chronologically fit.
The second state listing in the first book on Gollings was a mistake in the terms of the signature example shown on page 230. Continuing research causes an evolution of thoughts and results on any artist.
The second state of any etching does not make it more or less desirable on the market. What makes an impression desirable is the final product. On any type of artwork, take nothing for granted.
Gary L. Temple