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William Henry Chandler...
America’s Foremost Pastel Artist
by Michael Ivankovich
In our travels looking for early 20th c. hand-colored photography
and prints we see a wide variety of original art
including oils, watercolors, and pastels. Without a doubt we see more original pastels signed “Chandler” in the open
market today than nearly any other form of early 20th c. original art.
Who was Chandler? If you try to research Chandler you will probably find very little written about him. Our 1994-95
three-volume copy of Davenports which lists 130,000+ artists doesn’t even mention a William Henry Chandler. Nor does
our 1998 ADEC Art Price Index, our Huxford’s Fine Art Value Guide, or our Currier’s Price Guide to American Art at
Auction. And not until our 1999 Davenport’s do we find a very minor reference to this artist. Our 2000 ADEC Art Price
Index still doesn’t mention William Henry Chandler.
We first became interested in Chandler when a friend acquired one for a modest amount in the mid 1980’s. Unable to
find any background information on this Chandler, we by chance found a letter in the Maine Antiques Digest (MAD) “The
Meeting Place”(August, 1988) which discussed Chandler and mentioned a 32-page booklet that had just been published on
the artist. We ordered it, read it, and then pretty much filed it away. Our primary interest at the time was hand-colored
photography and we assumed that Chandler pastels would soon move out of our price range.
We re-discovered Chandler as we began our expanded research into the much broader early 20th c. print market. And
somewhat surprisingly, their price hadn’t increased all that much. Although we found a small core of individuals who had
been actively accumulating Chandler pastels & prints, most people still had no idea who Chandler was.
Why, when seemingly everything else worth collecting in the antiques & collectibles market has skyrocketed in price,
would Chandler pastels still remain un-discovered by the mainstream market? We suspect that it is because collectors
typically collect “the name”. And since there was no other written documentation on Chandler anywhere else except for
the extremely limited distribution of the 1988 Chandler booklet, most people simply passed his work by, or refused to
pay any serious money for it, assuming that there wasn’t much of a market for it.
In our opinion, this is all about to change. Very Soon.
To find out what changes had occurred within the Chandler market in the past 10 years I took a chance and wrote a
letter to Mr. Peter Neeley, the initial Chandler Researcher and Author of the original 1988 “Chandler - Early American
Pastel Artist” booklet. Somewhat surprisingly, he was still at the same address and he responded to my letter. We
exchanged a few more letters, he answered many of my questions, and he provided me with an addendum to his original
Here is the story on William Henry Chandler...America’s Foremost Pastel Artist.
William Henry Chandler (1854-1928) was born on June 9, 1854 in New York City. One of seven children born to Mr. &
Mrs. Asa Byram Chandler, they lived in Elizabeth NJ, East Orange NJ, and Summit NJ as he was growing up. Born into a
deeply religious Christian household, William displayed an interest in art during his youth but had other interests as well. A
hunting accident early in his life left him with a lifelong limp. And a strong religious belief remained with him for his entire
As a young man Chandler moved to Chicago and obtained artistic work as a cameo engraver in a pearl button
manufacturing business. While in Chicago he met and married his first wife, Jennie Freeman. Together they had three
children (Kathleen, Annabel, and Nellie). Tragedy struck the Chandler household hard as Nellie died when only a few months
old. And then Chandler’s wife Jennie died shortly thereafter from typhoid fever.
With his wife gone and two remaining children to raise, Chandler returned to northern New Jersey where he lived for the
rest of his life and raised his daughters with the help of his sister.
The Art of William Henry Chandler
Starting around 1887 Chandler began producing his original
art as an alternative to the larger-scale print runs of
Currier & Ives, Taber-Prang, and other major print-makers of the time. Chandler operated under the trade name of “W.H.
Chandler and Co.” in New York City’s Lower Manhattan, a business that he ran with his brother, Frank Chandler
(1857-1912). William Chandler was responsible for creating the original art while Frank was responsible for the framing,
packing, shipping, and at times, for retail and wholesale art sales. Although his business started small, it eventually grew
to where he was employing nearly 20 people at its peak
Most artistic work took place in a large open room called “The Loft” where up to 20 easels were usually set up at any
given time. A variety of employees could be working on up to 3 easels concurrently. Some artists worked directly in the
studio while others worked out of their homes on a per-picture basis. The vast majority of the studio’s output was in the
form of pastel chalk art, although oils, watercolors, and charcoals were occasionally sold as well.
The chalk used on Chandler pastels was imported from France in a variety of colors. A Chandler employee then blended
these imported colors into a wide variety of bright and pleasing pastel colors, adding a bonding liquid, and then molding
the chalks into easily-usable pastel sticks. The same employee prepped the various sized pastel boards before use,
preparing them with glue and sand so the final pastel colors would adhere better. After the picture was completed by the
artist, it would be sprayed with a fixative to help the chalk to adhere better, and then usually sent to be framed by
Most Chandler pastels come in the form of landscapes. Although supposedly modeled after the rivers and mountains of
New York or New England, in my opinion many seem to be modeled after places much farther away. Most landscapes
feature some form of water such as a lake, stream, river, or waterfalls. Mountains were usually included, often with
another focal point such as a cabin, house, trees, mill, boats, cottages, etc. Flying birds or sailboats were often added in
the distance for visual effect.
Chandler’s most uncommon scenes include such topics as floral still lifes, fruit bowls, and hanging wild game such as
fish or rabbits. We have even seen a still life with a fish bowl on a table. Chandler ocean seascapes and foreign scenes
are also considered rare.
Chandler pastels were sold through art stores, art dealers, gift shops and department stores such as Marshall Fields,
Sears, Higbee’s and The May Company in the United States, and through Simpson’s, Eaton’s, and Hudson Bay in Canada.
Chandler prints were sold through the Taber-Prang print catalog and through various calendar and print publishers. Initial
sales contacts were made by Frank Chandler, other sales representatives, and often by Chandler himself.
As his reputation grew, Chandler exhibited his work at the 1900-01 International Exposition in Paris. His name appeared
on the membership list of the prestigious Century Association of New York, among other professional groups. A signed
Chandler pastel even hangs today in the Royal British Columbia Museum Parliament Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia,
Between 1917-1918 Chandler spent a limited time in Canada producing his work. Apparently around that time Canada
had levied a 25% import tax on certain American goods which made it prohibitively expensive to import certain goods
from the U.S. into Canada. Some American businesses attempted to set up a Canadian subsidiary in order to avoid this
import tax (e.g., Wallace Nutting briefly set up a Canadian operation). However, Chandler’s Canadian operation was
short-lived and he returned to New York after only a few months.
Chandler Lithographic Prints
Original pastel art obviously cost more and had a much
more limited distribution than machine-produced prints. At the
turn of the century Chandler developed several arrangements with certain lithographers and print makers whereby some
of his original pastels would be converted into art prints, calendar prints, or other print form. Between 1887-1903,
Chandler’s work was produced as color or chromolithograph prints by such publishers as Hallen and Weiner (NY), Joseph
Hoover (Phila), and Mueller and Lucksinger Co. (NY). His work appeared as machine-produced prints in the Taber-Prang Art
Catalog as well. Art prints were often 15x20" in size, although many were cropped over the years to fit into specific
frames. Calendar prints and other print forms were usually produced in a multitude of sizes.
And although logic would dictate that Chandler prints should be far more common than Chandler pastels, that has not
been my experience. Although in my travels I tend to see more original Chandler prints than pastels, Chandler prints do
seem to be relatively uncommon in today’s market, probably for two reasons. First, the vast majority of
turn-of-the-century prints have been discarded, either because of damage or because their initial low price meant they
weren’t highly prized by the original owners. Very few people ever discard original art. Secondly, often times the Chandler
name was often omitted from the print by the publisher, or cropped off during subsequent framing and re-framings,
thereby making the print less valuable or collectible.
Either way, you should recognize that Chandler prints are not nearly as collectible or valuable as Chandler pastels. And
although it’s hard to believe, an unexpectedly large percentage of collectors and dealers don’t know the different
between an original pastel or a chromolithograph print. I have been in many dealers booths where a beautiful Chandler
pastel was priced lower than a Chandler print so beware...bargains are still out there.
Some Observations on Chandler Pastels
ORIGINALITY: All original Chandler pastels are unique; no two are exactly
alike. It would be our opinion that Chandler
himself probably set the standards for most scenes, perhaps drawing an original model picture that the other artists
were supposed to follow as closely as possible. However, since each Chandler pastel is an original piece or art, and
although certain images may look similar, each is unique and you will always find subtle differences between similar
CATEGORIES AND RARITY: Chandler pastels fall into several primary categories.
In my opinion, these categories, from the
most common to the most unusual, would include:
- Landscapes with water and mountains
- Landscapes with mountains but without water
- Landscapes without mountains or water
- Landscapes including buildings (other than distant cabins)
- Still Lifes, with Fruit, Wild Game, or Flowers
- Foreign Scenes (eg, English thatch-roofed cottages)
- Ocean or Seascape Scenes, with or without boats
TITLES: Most Chandler pastels seem to be untitled. Whereas Chandler
prints would have been given a title by the publisher
to assist in sales & marketing, we have seen little evidence that most original Chandler pastels carried any specific title
FRAME AND PASTEL SIZES: Pastel sizes were usually large format. Although
we have seen a few in sizes as small as
8x12" or smaller, most were in the 14x18", 16x20", 20x24" size, or larger. And it was quite common to over-mat a
pastel thereby requiring an even larger frame. Quite often Chandler pastels were framed in large ornate frames, which
more often than not are damaged today.
SIGNED VS. UN-SIGNED CHANDLER PASTELS: In our opinion there are a significant
number of “Un-Signed” original Chandler
pastels still in circulation. According to Peter Neeley, when Chandler pastels were produced in pairs, usually only one was
signed. And since most “pairs” have been broken up over the last 100 years, that would mean many original Chandlers
are un-signed today. And although Chandler himself most likely signed all of his own art, it would also be our opinion that a
fair number of original Chandler pastels completed by one of his employees may have left the studio un-signed.
PRICES: If you look hard you might still find an occasional Chandler
pastel for under $100, although that is becoming an
increasingly rare occurrence. I would generally say that most Chandler pastels today are priced within the $200-$400
range, although sometimes better & rarer pieces in the best condition will bring $500 or more. However keep in mind that
condition is extremely important as it relates to value and only the rarest pieces in the best condition will bring top
dollar. Common pieces in average-to-below average condition will be worth considerably less.
Most Chandler pastels are signed in one of five different ways:
1) Chandler (far and away the most common form of signature)
2) W.H. Chandler
3) Wm. H. Chandler
5) And, as mentioned earlier, when done in pairs usually only one picture was signed
Did Chandler himself sign each and every pastel that
was ever produced in his studio? Personally I have seen a wide
variety of Chandler signatures in my travels, seemingly not all signed by the same hand. I specifically posed that question
to Peter Neeley and his response was that Chandler himself did indeed sign all pictures, and that he doubted whether the
Chandler employees were ever allowed to sign the Chandler name. His opinion is backed up by comments from the
Chandler family. Whether signed by Chandler himself, or periodically by one of his key employees, any piece of art signed
“Chandler” came to connote a quality pastel drawing of a specific style and vintage.
Problems Facing Chandler Pastels
Unfortunately, 100-year old pastels are much more fragile
than oils or canvases and face a myriad of problems that
sometimes need to be addressed, some of which include:
WOOD BACKING: Many original Chandler pastels were backed with several
pieces of soft wood which may have made sense
in the short term, but have caused significant damage in the long-term. The biggest problem caused by the wooden backs
is what I call “acid burn”. The wood’s chemical content has literally leaked through the pastel board, usually near the
cracks between the individual wooden pieces, and now appears as a darkening on the image itself. What should be done?
We would recommend that the wood be immediately removed and replaced with some type of acid-free backing which will
prevent any further deterioration. Whether you should seek out some type of pastel conservator to remedy the image
deterioration will depend upon your personal preferences. More often than not any restoration cost may exceed your
original purchase price so this will be an individual decision.
STAINS, TEARS & IMAGE BLEMISHES: Because of the age and fragility
of the pastel, quite often there is image damage,
ranging from relatively minor to majorly significant. As a rule of thumb, we would recommend that you stay away from
anything having any serious damage. Minor damage can sometimes be removed with cropping or professional image
restoration. Just be reminded that any restored image will usually be worth less than an un-restored piece.
PASTEL COMING INTO CONTACT WITH THE GLASS: After nearly 100 years of
being in its original frame it is quite common
for the pastel to meet the glass, thereby leaving a small pastel smudge on the glass. This is a very common problem and
the smudged pastel is easily removable. When replacing the old backing it is very easy to Windex the glass before
carefully replacing the pastel and acid-free backing into the frame. And more often than not, the improvement in beauty
will be remarkable.
CRUMBLING OR DAMAGED FRAMES. Seemingly most original Chandler
pastels were framed within large and elaborate
frames which now after nearly 100 years have become damaged. This damage is usually in the form of broken corners,
damaged ornamentation, or edge flaking or chips. In our opinion we would prefer to keep the Chandler within its original
frame. Sometimes Old English will do the trick. However, since the frame is a major key to the pastel’s beauty, we are
not adverse to replacing an unsightly frame with one that will restore its beauty. Where possible we try to locate another
period frame of comparable size but when that is impossible, we sometimes prefer a newer frame that complements the
beauty rather than leaving it in its original and unsightly frame. This is a matter of personal taste and I would recommend
that you proceed in the manner that will enable you to enjoy your Chandler pastel in the best way possible.
IT’S OKAY TO CLEAN YOUR PASTEL: Although some may disagree with us,
we wholeheartedly believe that it is acceptable
to take a pastel apart, clean the glass, re-sprig the pastel back into a cleaned frame, and then add a new paper backing
to insure that no new dirt or dust returns beneath the glass. As purists, we would prefer a beautiful, original, and
untouched picture. As realists, we have come to recognize that most Chandlers need a little cleaning in order to restore
their original brilliant look.
Chandler & William M. Thompson...
The Closing Chapter
William Henry Chandler died on February 26, 1928 and was
buried at the Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey.
Chandler had lived his entire life as a devout Christian, a great humanitarian, and had spent his entire life dedicated to
God’s work. While in Chicago, he worked with small children in a mission school; while working in New York, he continued his
humanitarian work with the derelicts and downtrodden in New York’s Bowery district. He was very active in the affairs of
the Oakes Memorial Methodist Church while he was living; they saw fit to honor William Henry Chandler in 1964, 36 years
after his death, for his fine work in establishing their Sunday School and for his many other accomplishments.
Upon his death, Chandler’s business was purchased by another name that you may recognize...William McMurray
Thompson, whose pictures are often confused with R. Atkinson Fox. Thompson had started as a clean-up boy in
Chandler’s studio, later apprenticed under Chandler, and then he purchased the entire studio upon Chandler’s death in
But the story of W. J. Thompson will have to wait until another column.
Michael Ivankovich is a collector, author, dealer and auctioneer specializing
in early 20th century hand-colored
photography and prints. E-Mail questions or inquiries can be directed to him at: firstname.lastname@example.org Although E-Mail
questions will be answered more quickly, you can also write him at: P.O. Box 1536, Doylestown, PA 18901. If you want a
reply, you must include a self-address-stamped- envelope. You can also visit his internet web site at: www.wnutting.com
You are invited to send any interesting articles and facts concerning popular early 20th c. artists or hand-colored
photographers for possible use in a future column