"The Portrait of Two Sisters", 1908.
Painted by Theodore Gegoux (1850-1931)
Oil on canvas, measuring 30 1/4 by 22 1/4 inches.
Signed and dated 1908.
Painted at Watertown, New York.
The girls are Agnes Louis Flanders (1905-1979) and Helen Mary Flanders (1903 - 1994).
Photographs by Theodore Gegoux III © Copyright 2002 - All Rights Reserved
The provenance contributed by Ruth H. (Stetson) Smith - April 30, 2004 © Copyright - All Rights Reserved.
A Tale of Two Sisters
The year was 1908, Agnes Louis Flanders, then all of three years of age, was going to "sit" for her portrait. Sister Helen, then six, was to accompany Agnes and join her in the portrait. Helen, who sat for her own portrait back in '06, was to pose alongside Agnes. Mother had chosen white lace dresses; special for the occasion. A white bow was selected for each daughter, and the effect next to their freshly curled and combed hair was just right.
Both sisters were raised their entire lives on a dairy farm in Rodman, New York. The father was Earl K. Flanders, Rodman Democrat and dairyman, who was one of the most popular and prominent members of his party in Jefferson County, New York.
For her part, Agnes could not have known that she was destined to marry, have children of her own, and live a full life to the age of 75 years. Neither could Helen have known that she would live a life of service to her fellow man as a registered nurse and die at the age of 81.
These sisters are typical, but for the portraits, of so many folks throughout history who, after living a full life, died leaving little more than the memories of family and friends to mark their passing. In those days, the portraits themselves often fell victim to fire, or they survived longer than the people who knew anything of the subjects. Portraits of this period, 100 years old and more, are often anonymous. The people who knew the subjects are long dead and often little or nothing is known of the provenance.
In such cases, often when the last heir dies, portraits are sold with the household items, perhaps changing owners multiple times, leaving few clues. Occasionally, the family will come on hard times and sell the portrait out of need. Such was the case for the portrait of Agnes and Helen.
Back in April 1981, at the grange hall of Wales Center, New York, the Portrait of Two Sisters 1908 by Theo Gegoux went under gavel for $1,800 dollars. Shocking the new owner who, not intending to buy anything, was stunned when the bidding stopped while his hand was in the air. Auction houses are famously close lipped about seller's identities. As a consequence, nothing was known about this painting and little was likely to ever be known.
Some twenty years later, that all changed. The portrait owners came across an obscure website, operated by the family of the artist. This website could only be found if you knew the exact spelling of the artist's last name Gegoux. This was before search engines got smart. The owners offered to contribute a photo of the portrait for posterity more than expectation.
But after only a few years the website was contacted by members of the family that originally sold the painting. Names were once again associated with faces .. information followed later .. when digitized newspapers from Northern New York revealed articles about both the artist and the portrait subjects.
We are indebted to, and profoundly appreciate, all those who came forward and shared this story.
Theodore Gegoux © 2011
This is the story about about how the "Portrait of Two Sisters" was discovered.
"It was a Saturday back in the first couple of weeks of April 1981. We went to an auction in Corfu, NY and it was terrible. One of my friends said there was an auction in Wales Center, so we said "Let's try it". It was run by Williston Auctioneers of East Aurora, New York in a grange hall. Their phone is 716-652-2936. I believe it was two or three estates sales combined. They had a lot of magnificent stuff - oak dressers, dry sinks, etc. The one thing I clearly remember were the Persian rugs. There were two buyers on either side of the room and they bought every one, for big bucks like 3 to 12 thousand dollars apiece. They had a break [in the auction] and on stage there were 10 or 12 paintings on display for us to view. To this day I don't know what possessed me to raise my hand, I am sure the atmosphere with all the other antiques put me in the mood. But I have no regrets. It will be a moment I cherish. I was single and 30 years old. I think I was shocked when the auctioneer could not solicit anymore bids and I became the proud owner. It was a lot of money for me. I paid $1800.00. One crowning moment was when I was exiting the building. I had three separate people approach me and want to know what I was going to do with the painting, to a studio for sale, etc? I said "No!", I was going to hang it in my apartment. I did get it appraised by D' Arcangelo Fine Arts in April 1981. He stated that it was the finest quality valued [at that time] $3000.00."
Doug McClellan, February 28, 2000
The Watertown Daily Times - September 21, 1908 - Wednesday - Work of Prof. Gegoux
Among the new oil portraits on exhibition at Gegoux's studio are a bust portrait of Mrs. H. B Leak, a 3 ft length portrait of the late Mrs. Walter Barber and full figure portraits of Helen and Agnes Flanders, grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. Joshua Flanders. Studio will be opened in the evening until 9 o'clock. All are invited to see these work of art.