Almost Otto

Mallards by Otto Kurth

True confession: I’ve never been on Ebay before – never looked, never browsed, never ventured a bid. But when I found a painting for sale by Peconic Bay Impressionist Otto Kurth, the other day, I had to jump in. Never mind I don’t particularly care for bird paintings and don’t really like mallards – it was a piece of North Fork history (circa 196os)  painted in Mattituck and a wonderful souvenir . The bidding began at $129. I hemmed, I hawed. I made an offer. I became the lead bidder at $151. I checked every twenty minutes then every ten. I was still winning- until I wasn’t. The bidding suddenly went up to $175.  Should I keep going? Was it worth it? I didn’t know much about the Peconic Impressionists and Otto only got tiny mention in the book that Alison had lent me on the subject just the day before (as mentioned in a previous post). I called my friend Anne Hargrave for advice.

Anne is deeply knowledgeable about art; she worked in galleries for years and now has a private clientele who seek her out for her opinion and to appraise their art. Anne knew who Otto Kurth was, of course, and she knew exactly what his paintings were worth. You should bid on it, she said. But the painting looked like it had some bits of paint missing. It would probably have to be restored, said Anne. That would cost several hundred dollars – at least. Did I want a slightly chipped bird painting? I decided I did and upped up my bid to $200. It was immediately countered. I made mine $215. There were ten minutes left. I debated further. Did it really want it? Was it worth it? I thought of giving Anne another call but she was already on her way back to New York. Ten seconds. I went up $20 more but it was rejected and then it was over. The Mallards sold for $256.

How much was the painting really worth? According to Anne its value could have been as much as $700 to $1000 if it was properly restored – though the monetary value wasn’t the only measure, of course. My loss now seemed somehow greater than several hundreds of dollars. Had I allowed a piece of North Fork history slip from my hands?

Perhaps, I thought, the successful bidder might one day regret his purchase and put it back on Ebay. In the meantime, I consoled myself with the thought that though Otto’s birds would be on someone else’s wall, I still had the (entire) North Fork around me, after all.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by robert on January 24, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Hello again!
    I love your description of the anxiety accompanied by online auctions. It shows the compulsiveness that turns these things addictive. Your story also reminded me of this (slightly) related article I saw a few days ago:

    Good luck with your future art explorations, and I must say that I personally miss the north fork, myself.


  2. Hi Robert-
    Thanks so much for your note and the link. I’ll be hoping to find another ‘Otto’ one day.


  3. Posted by manny on August 22, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Interesting story of Otto Kurth. Interesting because I own an interesting piece by Otto Kurth. The painting is a ship at sea the “EMPIRE STATE”. The very interesting part is Otto seemed to have dedicated the painting to the ship’s Captain, Alfred OLIVETT his friend as described allongside Otto Kurth’s Signature. There is a little bit more written by OTTO KURTH, unique dedication to his friend Captain OLIVETT. OLIVETT is a permanent fixture and has a pier named after him in NY at the Maritime College.


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