The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York


Butterscotch Gallery sells $1.7 million painting

Untitled work by Rachel Ruysch, sold by Butterscotch Auction Gallery for $1.7 million.



When you think of million-dollar art auction sales, the mind goes to Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Bonhams, and Phillips de Pury, houses that are well-known for setting the market price.

A small auction house such as Butterscotch Auction Gallery, established 25 years ago in Pound Ridge, is not the first place you’d think of to sell a million-dollar painting. And yet that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago at Historical Hall on the Village Green in Bedford when a painting was sold for $1.7 million, setting a new world record for the artist at auction, Rachel Ruysch.

The Butterscotch Auction Gallery has conducted their auctions in Bedford Village for over 25 years, auctioning all sorts of items from private estates. The gallery was founded and is owned by Paul Marinucci, a resident appraiser and lifelong still-life enthusiast.

The painting, which is untitled, is a monumental still life painted in 1700. It depicts a vase of flowers and fruit on a ledge with various insects — a grasshopper, butterflies, beetles and even a praying mantis — climbing about here and there. Rachel Ruysch, the artist, was a Dutch Golden-Age painter (1664-1750). Known in her early career to paint monumental-size still-lifes, at 44 x 35 inches, this is one of the largest of her works to have come onto the market.

Brendan Ryan, a native of Bedford, is in his fourth year as an auctioneer and appraiser for the gallery. In college, he was a music major. “When I started working for Paul Marinucci, I didn’t know anything about art,” said Mr. Ryan, “but Paul’s expertise is American painting. It’s so interesting to see him go out on pickups and seeing his reaction to paintings.”

For the Feb. 12 sale, Mr. Ryan did much of the research on both Ruysch and the painting itself.

“We tracked the provenance back to the Alton Towers estate in England, the ‘princely’ seat of the Earls of Shrewsbury,” Mr. Ryan said. “In 1856 the last true earl passed away without leaving an heir apparent, and in 1857 the contents of his estate were sold at auction by Christie and Manson.”

According to Mr. Ryan, most of the paintings in the estate were acquired in bulk from Madame Bonaparte in 1829, though it is hard to say whether the Ruysch was included in that sale. “Since the catalog for the 1857 auction is arranged by room, we know exactly which other paintings were hanging alongside the Ruysch: a Titian, a Claude, an Andrea Del Sarto, a Luini, among others,” he said. “The Ruysch then shows up again in another Christie’s sale in 1876, and then another in 1913, where the grandfather of the present owner’s late husband acquired it.”

Since that time, said Mr. Ryan, the painting descended down the family in Zurich, and finally came to New York in the 1980s. “The owners had no idea exactly what their painting may have been worth, and being that there were so few auction records that seemed comparable, we decided on a conservative pre-sale auction estimate of $200,000 to $300,000,” said Mr. Ryan. “We had a feeling that the painting might fetch $500,000 or $600,000, but we never expected it to breach $1 million, as only one other painting of the artist’s has done so.”
Mr. Ryan calls himself a self-taught art history researcher. “I go to the 42nd Street library in New York a lot,” he said. “They have any art book you can imagine and tons of old catalogs from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s amazing what you can find.” He said his musical background has been helpful to him as a researcher because of the correlations between composers and artists. “A huge part of music is the form, the way a composer takes a theme and then develops it. It’s similar to many realms of art; take the composition of a painting. In literature, it’s the way an author will develop a story. I’ve always had an interest in that.”

The hard part about being a serious researcher, he said, is that you need to see the paintings and study them. “It’s not the kind of thing you can research on the Internet.” He said he goes down to the Metropolitan Museum of Art once a month, “and I can barely make it through two rooms before I reach the saturation point.”

But now more about the $1.7 million painting.

“Though it was the fashion of the time for a still life painter to show withered fruit and leaves — signs of mortality and decay — this example of Ruysch’s is seemingly teeming with life, and is painted much more from the perspective of a naturalist than that of a metaphysician,” Mr. Ryan said. “She definitely was more of a naturalist.” He said it was significant that the artist was a woman because there weren’t that many important female painters coming out of that period. “Rachel Ruysch is one of three major Dutch female painters that are significant. Her paintings do perform well, but unfortunately she’s been overshadowed by her male contemporaries of that time, like Jan Van Huysum.”

The Butterscotch auction took 29 days to complete. “We had a Rodin drawing in the auction as well,” Mr. Ryan said. “It’s interesting to see what kind of paintings people want, and why.”

While the event physically took place on Feb. 12 at Historical Hall, there were more than 1,000 Internet bidders signed up. “What’s good about that is that we’re able to sell a lot of things that we might not otherwise sell. For example, we had some Indonesian paintings in the sale. We had bidders from all over the world. It’s a completely international marketplace now. We had a Madame Alexander doll we listed at $200 that sold online for $1,500.”

What’s amazing about the Internet, he said, is that a small auction house like Butterscotch is getting the same exposure as the major players.

While Mr. Marinucci begged off a direct interview, Mr. Ryan said, “It’s fitting that this painting should be, so far, the biggest ‘hit’ of his career.”

Other notable items sold that day were a plaster sculpture by Wilhelm Lehmbruck, a German expressionist artist, which sold for $29,000; a diamond engagement ring that sold for $13,000; and a Louis Vuitton wardrobe trunk that sold for $13,000.

For more information about Butterscotch Auction Gallery, call

764-4609 or log on to  HYPERLINK ""

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FEBRUARY 24, 2012