Painting by famed Indiana artist found behind canvas

BELMONT, Ind. (AP) – Art experts are hoping to figure out more about the origins of a previously unknown painting by noted Indiana impressionist T.C. Steele that was found hidden behind another canvas.

The unusual find occurred after the Indiana State Museum shipped one of its paintings by the late artist to a Chicago art conservator for cleaning and restoration.

Conservator Barry Bauman removed an 1887 painting titled “The Old Garden” from its frame to be re-stretched and found the other painting beneath it.

The landscape dated 1890 and signed by Steele depicts two buildings, a clock tower and a small, female figure wearing a red bonnet. It was revealed during a news conference Wednesday at the state’s T.C. Steele Historic Site near the Brown County community of Belmont where he lived and painted in the early 1900s, The Herald-Times of Bloomington reported.

The site depicted in the painting has not been identified, but Meredith McGovern, art collections manager for the Indiana State Museum, and others are tracing Steele’s whereabouts at the time, reading letters and talking to residents in areas he painted in 1890 about a building with a tower.

“Hopefully, we can stitch together the story,” McGovern said.

Steele, who died in 1926, was an American Impressionist known for his Indiana landscapes. He is considered the most important of a cluster of Indiana artists known as The Hoosier Group.

His second wife, Selma Neubacher Steele, donated more than 300 of Steele’s works to the state of Indiana shortly before her death in 1945.

Bauman said he was amazed to find the hidden artwork last month.

“It was like a King Tut discovery, for me,” Bauman told the Indianapolis Business Journal. “I’ve been conserving paintings for 40 years, and it’s never happened to me.”

Art experts are uncertain why Steele hid one painting beneath another, although Bauman is certain Steele was responsible.

“I think there’s probably a simple answer for it, but we’ll never know it,” Bauman told The Indianapolis Star.

Curt Churchman, a collector of Indiana art who operates Fine Estate Art & Rugs in Indianapolis, said an 18-inch-by-24-inch painting by Steele from that time would probably bring $50,000 to $100,000 if it were sold on the open market.

“It’s a good period for Steele,” said Churchman, who sold a Steele painting last year for $75,000. “He was at the top of his form””

The painting that covered up the unknown landscape has been displayed before at the Steele historic site, which will display both paintings in a display called Steele Concealed through November, said Andrea deTarnowsky, the site’s manager.

McGovern said she hoped that showing the painting to the public will result in some leads about the scene it shows. Or if not, at least the mystery “will be something interesting for people to think about in the years to come.”

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