Is it me, or does it seem like all the chi-chi designers today are going ever-more modern? Or that the hot art shows seem to be so cutting edge? Would those of us who admit we like more traditional fare, say, 19th- and early 20th-century works, seem dated?
Let’s take a different approach. Let’s call Renoir retro, and then we’d be back in business.
Lesley Duncan and Ashby Anderson certainly are, with a new fine art business run out of Ashby’s home in Chevy Chase. The pair, who met through their children, are art scholars and collectors who have combined forces to sell what they call “affordable real art.”
Bellus Fine Art deals mostly in 19th- and 20th-century American painting — and as you can see from their picture, they are young! Well, my peer group at least. Let’s call it 40’s fabulous…
By day, Ashby is an English teacher at the Landon School for boys (where my dad went, so we had a small-world moment about that); Lesley takes care of her kids and, when necessary, ferries artwork to prospective customers so they can see how it looks in their homes. She gets serious when she talks about the lengths they go to make sure clients are happy. “The amount of bending over backwards is unparalleled,” she says. “We stand behind [the art], period. End of story.”
Right—the art. Ok. I am not an “art person.” My knowledge goes as far as my Art 100 class at Smith College. I’m one of those people who gets easily intimidated, thinking I shouldn’t go into a gallery because every piece costs a jillion dollars.
Bellus (which means “beautiful” in Latin) is an entirely different experience. First, I’m in someone’s home, and before I know it, Lesley—who’s already holding her own wine glass— is asking me what kind I would like, digging around Ashby’s fridge as she speaks. Then the three of us are standing around sipping, and chatting, in the kitchen before any talk of art comes up. But then we start walking around (don’t mind the Star Wars Legos over on the table from one of Ashby’s three kids) to check it all out.
So here it is—all these lovely paintings that cost, what? Under a jillion dollars? Far less. Take this one by William Bodwell, a founding member of the Provincetown, Mass., Artist Colony:
This image has the same gauzy, haunted quality as any of the Impressionist masters. It costs $1,400. For art with a great pedigree (each work on the Bellus Web site is accompanied by a full history and bio of the artist), this is a huge deal, in my humble, “not an art person” opinion.
Speaking of pedigree, Bellus has a painting by a man named Karl Buehr. Most of us probably have never heard of him, but what I love about Ashby and Lesley is that they relish telling the story behind each artist. Turns out that Buehr’s daughter and Claude Monet’s granddaughter were playmates, and spent days running around those storied gardens and lily ponds at Giverny. Here is the Buehr painting currently on offer:
This work sells for $3,700. Another Buehr work recently was auctioned at Sotheby’s, fetching close to $50,000.
Ashby and Lesley scour auctions and estate sales, and they also purchase from dealers and take art on consignment. “It’s a long-term investment, and that’s what we want to communicate to clients,” Ashby says. But it’s a doable investment for those of us who can’t quite manage the Sotheby’s route.
We Gen-Xers (I hope) have finally shed the dorm-room and Ikea ready-to-assemble pieces for grown-up furnishings, and Bellus helps make the next step a little easier. “Let’s stop giving each other a belt or a sweater. Let’s give each other something that’s lasting,” Lesley says.
Most of the works are already framed, so they’re ready to hang on the wall. The Bellus partners also conserve and restore paintings, like this one they found by Paul Saling, a German American who came here through Ellis Island and settled in Old Lyme, Conn. When they found this painting, it looked like it had been streaked with Elmer’s Glue. But there’s no more trace of it here:
This one is $3,300. I adore the chunky brush strokes and the mixing of the pinks and blues.
Many of the paintings are under $1,000, like this one:
I’d better start saving, and tell my husband that he won’t be getting a sweater for Christmas! The real appeal here, beyond price, is that Lesley and Ashby know so much about the artists they have on display. If one painting draws you in, hearing the artist’s story will surely make it stick.
It’s kind of like today, where you buy the art of a struggling student because you like his or her story and the work shows promise—and those with the best vision will see their relatively small initial investment grow many times over when that artist makes it big. These artists are no longer alive, but Bellus is trying to revive their histories.
“What I’m trying to do is get these under-the-radar artists who have a history,” Lesley says, “and be the myth-maker for them.”