From Leonardo da Vinci to Janice Lowry, artists’ writings have been critical to understanding their lives. For some artists, journaling or note-taking provides a means to convey the hidden symbolism underneath their often mysterious and intriguing designs. For others, it provides a platform for other artisans to offer their feedback and submit works of their own. In the 1800s and early 1900s, it was common for traveling artisans to have guest artists write and draw in a shared journal.
This journal I came across belonged to watercolor artist William C. Emerson. It is striking because all of its artwork and inscriptions are related to its owner, who fittingly titled it Book of My Friends. In addition to featuring miniature colorful paintings and sketches that could entertain for hours, this pocket-sized museum holds statements by Emerson and other artists that provide insight into their thoughts and feelings on their works.
Identifying and Valuing William C. Emerson’s Works
Emerson was born in London, England, and later painted tonalist landscapes in Chicago and New Preston, Connecticut. Tonalism was an artistic style spanning approximately between 1880 and 1920 whose painters paired symbolic meaning with their skillful technical elements. Emerson is most known for his paintings of trees. In this journal, we see Emerson depict nature scenes in this style, but we also witness drawings, sketches, and watercolors that are more simplistic. Well-known artists, including Carl S. Junge, did some of these works.
Midway through the journal, we see Emerson and Junge created bookplates for each other. The two artists may have made these around 1927—assuming the journal was filled in chronological order—nearing the last decade of Emerson’s life, yet only halfway through Junge’s life. Junge was working in Chicago, designing art deco book illustrations and posters in the 1930s, so Emerson may have influenced Junge’s career. I’m curious whether Emerson would have created more bookplates than tree paintings if he had lived longer.
Using WorthPoint.com, we can see examples of artwork created by William C. Emerson. This work depicts a group of trees with women underneath. Emerson’s framed paintings have been sold for hundreds to thousands of dollars, but his other journals appear much rarer. The WorthPoint® Price Guide also has realized values for many other artists, including more than 460,000 results for watercolor fine art paintings.
Will Seippel is the CEO and founder of WorthPoint®, the world’s largest provider of information about art, antiques, and collectibles. An Inc. 500 Company, WorthPoint is used by individuals and organizations seeking credible valuations on everything from cameras to coins. WorthPoint counts the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the IRS among its clients.