E-Sylum readers know I'm a fan of "Money Art". Steve Roach has published a nice article in Coin World on one of the top masters of the genre, Victor Dubreuil. Here's an excerpt.
The late 19th century trompe l’oeil artist Victor Dubreuil is certainly enigmatic, as are the paintings depicting currency contemporary with his era that he created.
His work occupies a prominent place among trompe l’oeil still life painters working in New York during the last quarter of the 19th century, largely because he signed his paintings, but much of his life remains a mystery. Today he’s best known for his depictions of money, but why was he obsessed with this theme?
Some believe that the artist’s obsession with money stemmed from the fact that he didn’t have any throughout his life, but that’s conjecture, as are many elements of his life. Even his date of birth is debated, with some authorities providing a birth year of 1842 and others pointing to 1846.
What’s known is that he was active as an artist in New York from around 1880 to 1900, before returning to France, where his date of death is unknown.
His depictions of money were at times so accurate that the Secret Service took an interest in his work, and it is suspected that his paintings (along with the paintings of his contemporaries) may have run afoul of counterfeiting laws. His works today are collected by museums but appear on the market with enough frequency to be accessible to collectors.
His biography and oeuvre together create a fascinating picture of the various elements impacting paper money in the United States during the late 19th century.
In some paintings he used trompe l’oeil illusionistic painting techniques to depict objects, placing them in context with one another to convey complex allegories that related to social elements of the time and tied into his interest in leftist politics.
Other paintings seemed to be created more for the art market and for collectors who enjoyed his ability to fool the viewer and paint illusions of money.
The owner of the saloon, William Roach, was a devoted patron of Dubreuil, and his establishment was the home of fun, merriment and frequent scams aimed at separating gullible people from their money.
Dubreuil’s paintings were placed around the saloon, in the words of one contemporary writer, “to impress visiting ‘guys’ with ideas of untold wealth.” The visitors were generally from outside the United States and what made the scams successful was that the scam involved counterfeit money. As such, the victims of the scam could not report those who deceived them to the police without themselves being incriminated as purchasers of counterfeit money.
A contemporary newspaper, The New York Herald, reported on one scam, writing that the paintings lining the saloon’s walls were “done by an old man who represented a million dollars on canvas three feet square for a fee of twenty dollars or so.” Dubreuil was upset by this characterization, replying in a letter to the editor, “I painted the pictures referred to but was paid a great deal more than the sum mentioned and never believed, nor do I now believe, the pictures were intended to further any evil purposes. As I am well known on the west side as the painter of these pictures I trust, out of justice to me, you will print the above.”
To read the complete article, see:
Temptation, illusion and deception: Dubreuil's paper money art
Wayne Homren, Editor
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