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Stag

How do rumors get started? It was after a dinner with Rudy Wunderlich in Chicago in 1994. We returned to his gallery to see what his bins might hold. Rudy napped in his chair, as I pulled out painting after painting, talking only to myself. An invitation to work another dealer’s bins is a coveted thing. We hope to recognize the unexpected, those things known to us, but not necessarily the man who stocked the bins. Rudy had been an early influence and though I was not as close to him as I was to Gerry, his son, we did a bit of business together, always had. 

 

The painting I discovered that night was by an artist unknown to Rudy as one who worked in oil, though this well-seasoned dealer knew the prints from the Album of Virginia. One of those images was of the Hygeia Hotel at Old Point Comfort in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Edward Beyer typically layered his compositions with townscapes and surrounding farms, churches and their attendant graveyards. But in that print and in this painting it is all about the water, as if the composition had been reversed with water replacing sky. In that I knew the artist had visited the Virginia coast at Hampton Roads, I proclaimed the new-found painting as Norfolk and, once in hand, this newly acquired work was offered as such.

 

Through Millie McGehee and on to a client of hers, the painting found its way to a wall in nearby Virginia Beach where it was proclaimed the best mid-nineteenth century landscape of the city of Norfolk and thus entered the canon of such things. The collector engaged an historian to identify all of the buildings possible and damned if she didn’t, even pinning the date of execution as May of 1849. The historian must have dismissed the 1856 date inscribed in Beyer’s hand as simply one of those unexplained anomalies that we so often encounter; a painting of Charleston Harbor with mountains ringing it, for example. 

 

Seventeen years on, Millie’s client decided to sell the painting and engaged me to handle it, a second opportunity with this wonderful, topographical view. Jim and Marilyn Melchor are friends of more than 40 years who live in Norfolk. I wanted to share this view of their town knowing that they, perhaps more than anyone, would appreciate the rarity of this. Their corroboration of the site as Norfolk would also add important substantiation to my file. You cannot beat a local historian at his own game. In a matter of moments, Norfolk became Edenton. The historian engaged to make the painting Norfolk had worked a little too hard.     

 

Beyer was all about the display of commerce and with his depiction of the Stag, a packet boat that plied the waters of the Chowan River, this canvas gives evidence of that. There is much about Norfolk and that part of Virginia that I simply do not know. I do know, however, that the Chowan River is in North Carolina and not Virginia. I spent the night en route back to Charleston in Edenton and met Francis Inglis the next morning. This delightful lady was the local historian of the Stanley Horn type. Her family was in Edenton when Mr. Beyer was and she was pleased to identify her home in the painting. Francis also gently corrected my pronunciation of the Chowan River and underscored it by reciting a limerick her mother had written:       

 

There was a young woman of Chowan

Who went out with only a bow on.

When stopped by the p'lice,

She said, “Mister, please—

It’s too hot to have any mo’ on.

   —Rebecca Bennehan Wood later Mrs. Fred’k B. Drane

 

Norfolk once again became Edenton, as the artist intended, and the transformation was quick and painless. Rumor has it that the Stag got its name from taking the good folks of the Albemarle Sound to see this young woman with only a bow on. North Carolina has always been known as the valley of humility between two peaks of pride though now it can boast at least one townscape by Virginia’s best painter of the period. Edenton may be the most attractive small town on all of the Southern Atlantic coast and it is gratifying to know that Edward Beyer clearly thought so, too.   

 

Private Collection, North Carolina   

Edward Beyer (1820-1865)
View of Edenton ()
Oil on canvas
1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
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