The painting is almost 100 years old.
“It is in demand, if you collect his work,” said Sharon Bass, Arnold’s family program coordinator. “There is incredible history behind each of his pieces of art.”
Bass first noticed the painting when she arrived at Arnold six years ago. No one could tell her the artist’s name or the date of creation. Various alumni said they remembered a large portrait, but could offer no further details.
Previous work experience with the Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga provided Bass with a keen eye.
Bass said she, “was kind of trained through them to look for certain characteristics when trying to identify artists.”
The painting’s characteristics stayed with her as she mulled over the artist’s identity. She was running in circles until an article in the newspaper caught her eye last September. A portrait of Dr. Joseph Stubblefield at the Museum Center at Five Points was on display. The artist behind the portrait was (Enoch) Lloyd Branson.
According to Bass, the similarities were striking.
“It’s kind of like how you know certain designers and what their styles look like,” Bass said. “I looked at the background, how they were posed — there were similarities [in both].”
Contact was then made with John Anderson who was compiling Branson’s work into one book.
Bass sent Anderson several photos of the painting taken with her phone. Anderson then decided to inspect the painting himself. He was accompanied by a professional photographer.
The photos were then used to compare the portrait against well-known works by Branson.
“They digitalized the photos. I guess they were able to study the painting better. I mean everything from knowing what kind of canvas was used, and was that appropriate to the time frame,” Bass said. “They even figured out what type of paint he used.”
“There are a lot of clues like that in determining the validity of a painting.”
Anderson declared the work of art to be a Branson. Additional pictures were taken and the portrait is now showcased in Anderson’s limited edition book, “The Art of Lloyd Branson.”
According to Anderson, the book is the largest collection of Branson paintings in one place.
“He really was the first artist who was born in East Tennessee who had an effect on the art culture and where it went from the 19th century to the 20th,” Anderson said.
He said Branson was a versatile artist working in various mediums, including oils, water colors and sculptures.
Bass explained how Branson had a good command of his subject’s facial features. She said he was obviously a very well-trained artist.
“If it’s a good portrait, the eyes always follow you,” Bass said. “No matter where you go, he will always be watching you.”
Added Bass, “The kids love it.”
Both Anderson and Bass said they hope the portrait can be restored. Blemishes covering the canvas include residue and erosion along the painting’s edge, a mark in the shape of an upside down key, cracks in the paint on Arnold’s forehead, blotting and a long, thin tear in the shape of a cross.
Anderson said he believed restorations would cost $2,000 to $3,000.
A copy of Anderson’s book on Branson was given to Arnold Elementary. A second edition may be forthcoming in light of recent alerts to possible Branson paintings in the Southeast Tennessee region.
“It is in demand, if you collect his work. There is incredible history behind each of his pieces of art.” — Sharon Bass