One of the most coveted trompe l’oeil paintings of money is set to highlight Sotheby’s American Paintings sale in New York City on May 18. The painting measures 26 by 30 inches and is estimated to sell for $80,000 to $120,000.
Victor Dubreuil’s Barrels of Money is signed by the artist and was painted circa 1897. It has a provenance that starts with T. O’Brien, who acquired the picture from the artist in 1897.
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Its first offering at auction was in 1989, and it would soon be acquired in 1992 by the Masco Corp. in Taylor, Mich., where it was widely exhibited as part of the corporate collection.
The picture was included in the important 1988 exhibit by New York’s Berry-Hill Galleries Old Money: American Trompe L’Oeil Images of Currency and was illustrated in the catalog twice.
In an accompanying review of the exhibition in the Nov. 25, 1988, New York Times, art historian Bruce Chambers, who organized the exhibition, said that the paintings remain popular because the social concerns of the 19th century are similar to those of today. Nearly three decades later, his words remain true: “You had major shifts in the economy, with major controversies over monetary policy,” Chambers said, adding, “There was the creation of great personal fortunes, and it was a time when not only bankers but farmers were obsessed with the life styles of the rich and famous — Mrs. Astor’s new pearl necklace, Mr. Carnegie’s new yacht.”
A 2011 exhibit titled Taxing Visions: Financial Episodes in Late Nineteenth-Century American Art, at California’s Huntington Library included Dubreuil’s work, but his hyperrealist depictions of money most interest academics when he was engaging in satire.
The artist’s more straightforward works, like Barrels of Money, are most popular with collectors.
Dubreuil most often painted the notes he saw — $1, $2 and $5 bills — and his larger-denomination notes are based more on imagination than reality.