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(Click to Enlarge)
Oil on Board
9 7/8 x 13 13/16 visible inches
Unframed; cut matte only
Stable craquelure and canvas rising on right with circular stain left as pictured.

An outstanding original oil on board painting by John Edward Costigan. Prior owner indicated this was originally from the estate of Costigan and a study for a WPA era post office mural. Drew Costigan indicated the following:

The pilgrim scene could be a study for a WPA mural, but it could also be a rough study for a book jacket or magazine illustration. He further explained that the style and composition used in this painting strongly resembles his early style and color palette, and he was known for using oil on board in his preliminary studies.

On artist board by BL Makepeace ( Bertrand L. Makepeace ) Beginning in 1898, Makepeace added lines of drafting supplies and drawing instruments from Keuffel and Esser Company of Hoboken, New Jersey. By 1909, the business had taken just about all of the available space at 345 Washington Street and moved to 387 Washington Street, at the corner of Bromfield, where it remained until 1947. A retail store was opened at 10 Bromfield Street in 1934, to make room for upstairs expansion at 387 Washington. In 1919, the business was formally incorporated, and in 1922 a branch was established at 394 Boylston Street in the Back Bay, which moved to more spacious quarters at 462 Boylston in 1930. A second branch opened at 10 High Street, which was closed during the depression.


American Artist

John Edward Costigan was a celebrated American artist widely recognized for his work in three media —oil painting, watercolor and print (etchings and lithographs). It is estimated that, in a career spanning some 50 years, he produced about 500 oils, 250 watercolors, 400 drawings, over 130 etchings, 20 lithographs, and a smattering of pastels and mixed media.

The “N.A.” usually suffixing the artist’s signature identifies him as an Academician in the National Academy of Design, a distinction with which he was honored by his peers in 1928.


John Costigan was born of Irish-American parents in Providence, Rhode Island, February 29, 1888. He was a cousin of the noted American showman, George M. Cohan, whose parents brought the young Costigan to New York City and were instrumental in starting him on a career in the visual arts. They were less successful in encouraging him to pursue formal studies at the Art Students League (where, however, he later taught) than in exposing him to the commercial art world through the job they had gotten him with the New York lithographing firm that made their theatrical posters.

At the H. C. Miner Lithographing Company, Costigan worked his way up from his entry job as a pressroom helper, through various apprenticeships, to the position of sketch artist. In the latter capacity he was an uncredited designer of posters for the Ziegfeld Follies and for numerous silent films. Meanwhile, he had supplemented his very meager formal studies in the fine arts with a self-teaching discipline that led to his first professional recognition in 1920 with the receipt of prizes for an oil painting and watercolor in separate New York exhibitions.

A year earlier, Costigan had wed professional model Ida Blessin, with whom he established residence and began raising a family in the sleepy little rural New York hamlet of Orangeburg, the setting for the many idyllic farm landscapes and wood interiors with which he was to become identified in a career that would span half a century.


John Costigan’s first national recognition came in 1922 with his winning of the coveted Peterson Purchase prize of the Art Institute of Chicago for an oil, “Sheep at the Brook.” It marked the start of an unbroken winning streak that would gain him at least one important prize per year for the remainder of the decade. The nation’s art journalists and critics began to take notice, making him the recurring subject of newspaper features and magazine articles. The eminent author and critic Edgar Holger Cahill was just a fledgling reporter when he wrote his first feature, “John Costigan Carries the Flame,” for Shadowland Magazine in 1922. (Click here for an abridged bibliography of books and articles containing information about John Costigan and his work).

Costigan had his first one-man show of paintings at the Rehn Gallery on New York’s 5th Avenue in November, 1924, to be followed less than three years later by another at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1924, a 36-year-old John Costigan was fast approaching the pinnacle of his fine arts career.

In addition, Costigan’s work has been—and continues to be—included, side-by-side with that of some of America’s most high-profile artists, in museum and gallery exhibitions throughout the country. His renown had peaked in the early 1930s, by which time his work had been honored with nearly every major award then being bestowed in the fine arts and had been acquired for the permanent collections of several prestigious American museums, including New York’s Metropolitan (which only recently, in 1997, deaccessioned his “Wood Interior,” acquired in 1934).

Although Costigan’s celebrity had ebbed by the late 1930s, the Smithsonian Institution saw fit in 1937 to host an exhibition exclusively of his etchings. And, in 1941, the Corcoran Gallery (also Washington, D.C.) similarly honored him for his watercolors. (Another Washington institution, the Library of Congress, today includes 22 Costigan etchings and lithographs in its permanent print collection.)

With the market for his paintings having hit rock bottom during World War II, Costigan returned briefly to illustrating, mainly for Bluebook, a men’s pulp adventure magazine. A gradual revival of interest in his more serious work began at the end of the war, culminating in 1968 with the mounting of a 50-year Costigan retrospective at the Paine Art Center and Arboretum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Oils, watercolors and prints were borrowed from museums and private collections throughout the country, and the exhibition was subsequently toured nationally by the Smithsonian Institution.

John Costigan died of pneumonia in Nyack, NY, August 5, 1972, just months after receiving his final prestigious award —the Benjamin West Clinedinst Medal of the Artist’s Fellowship, Inc., presented in general recognition of his “…achievement of exceptional artistic merit…” in the various media he had mastered in the course of his career.


Typically six to eight Costigan works will show up at the major auction houses (Sotheby Parke Bernet, Christie’s, Skinner, Phillips, et al) in the course of a year, and currently—perhaps increasingly—even a greater number on eBay and other internet auction sites. Note that condition, size, eye appeal and various other factors can and do account for some wide price variations ($90,000 was the purchase price for a 1927, 49” x 60” oil of a figure group sold in 2006.) In recent years, John Costigan’s talent and innovative style has gained increasing admiration among experts in the fine arts community. Although it is still possible to obtain Costigan paintings, etchings, lithographs, and watercolors at relatively affordable prices, the window of opportunity for collectors is closing as the quality and unique style of his work continues to gain the attention of gallery owners, museum curators, appraisers, and other experts in the field.

Important information for collectors about reproductions…

One of the best known Costigan titles in both watercolor and print is “Fishermen Three,” depicting three youths—a boy and two girls—fishing from a rock beside a stream. The 1938 etching was based on the c.1936 watercolor, making one a mirror image of the other (left and right reversed). Around 1939, a fine color reproduction of the watercolor was produced in a limited edition by the Associated American Artists (New York, NY) at approximately a 1:1 size ratio (16” x 20”) using a revolutionary patented process called Gelatone. It was one of a portfolio of 12 of these excellent reproductions by 12 renowned artists, including Thomas Benton and Grant Wood, which sold (then) for $80 per set or $7.50 per separate reproduction. These have been known to show up in sales by individuals on the internet. The prospective buyer needs to be aware that while the Gelatone “Fishermen Three” has its own intrinsic value, and is a handsome substitute for the original watercolor, the value gap is considerable.

The etching version of “Fishermen Three” (artist’s actual plate size 8.9” x 11.9”), and two other Costigan prints—”Bathers” (actual size 8.9” x 11.9”) and “Jackie” (actual size 10.9” x 8.8”)—are faithfully reproduced in a popular collector book, “A Treasury of American Prints,” published by Simon & Schuster in 1939. The book was purposely designed to allow easy removal of the pages for framing, and so these reproductions may occasionally show up in sales, perhaps mistakenly presumed (by seller and buyer alike) to be actual prints. Like the Gelatone “Fishermen Three,” these fine reproductions do have real value, though obviously far from that of original signed prints. One clue to look for is image dimensions (if given) approx. 12% smaller for the reproduction than those from the artist’s actual plates. On the front of each print reproduction contained in the Simon & Schuster book is the abbreviation REPRO in small, light print at the lower left, and on the rear is a printed blurb about the artist and the particular work. The latter will, of course, not be readily visible if the item is sold framed.


(Where to view Costigans—readily or on occasion—as you surf the net or travel the country)

A 1939 Associated American Artists publication noted that “John Costigan is represented in 62 of the most important museums here and abroad.” In 1983, an exhaustive survey completed by art connoisseur Richard L. Pope identified 99 museums, museum/galleries and art centers owning one or more Costigans.

A few of these venues have since deaccessioned one or more of their Costigans, and, as is common with museums, most others liberate theirs from storage only when a special exhibition or other occasion warrants it. There are a small number at which Costigans can readily be viewed upon entering the premises. Following is a sampling of institutions and websites currently having Costigans:

1. WEB LINKS—For immediate on-screen image access to a variety of Costigan works, simply click on any of these links:

AskArt.com—Billed appropriately as “The world’s most comprehensive database about North American artists,” this site contains images of 49 Costigan works. After clicking here, simply enter costigan (last name only) in the search box at the top of the page and click Search.

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco—This site displays images of 18 Costigan prints. After clicking on this link, scroll to the bottom of the welcome screen, enter costigan in the Keywords box and click go.

Gallery Page—www.jecostigan.com (This website’s own Gallery), containing more than 30 images.

2. WALK-INS— These institutions normally have Costigans physically on display, or readily available for viewing, but phone first to be absolutely sure:

Charles H. MacNider Museum, 303 2nd St. S.E., Mason City, Iowa 50401 (phone 515-421-3666)

Paine Art Center & Arboretum, 1410 Algoma Blvd., Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901 (phone 920-235-6903; ask for Curator of Exhibitions.)

Sheldon Swope Art Museum, 25 South 7th St., Terre Haute, Indiana 47807 (phone 812-238-1676, ask for Curator of American Art.)

Library of Congress, Washington DC— Anyone wishing to see any or all of the 22 Costigan etching and lithograph prints in this collection may visit the library’s Madison Building at 1st St. & Independence Ave. S.E., between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., weekdays only, and fill out the necessary call slips to see either the actual prints or suitable reproductions. As a rule, the maximum items you may access from storage in one day is 15. Waiting time for delivery is about ½-hour for one or a group of items. For more information, phone 202-707-6394.

Murals— At last report, depression era murals by Costigan were still on view in U.S. post offices in Rensselaer, Indiana and Stuart, Virginia. (a third mural, in a post office in Girard, Ohio, was inadvertently destroyed during building renovation.)

3. HIT OR MISS, OR BY APPOINTMENT— There is a fair chance the following institutions will have one or more of their Costigans on display by rotation. If not, some (especially galleries) will likely honor
National Academy of Design, 1083 5th Ave. at 89th St., New York NY 10128 (phone 212-369-4880). The huge permanent collection is constantly rotated. Serious researchers may arrange an appointment with the curator to view the Costigans.

The Hickory Museum of Art, 243 3rd Ave. N.E., Hickory, North Carolina 28601 (phone 826-327-8576). Part of the permanent collection is on display 70% of the time.

Salmagundi Club & Museum, 47 5th Ave., New york NY 10003 (Phone Richard Pionk, Pres., 212-348-8991.)

Madison Art Center, 211 State St., Madison, Wisconsin 53703 (phone 608-257-0158. Ask for Registrar.)

Museum of Art at Brigham Young University, N. Campus Dr., Provo, Utah 84602 (phone 801-378-8256) A convenient digital search and viewing system is currently under development for use by appointment in the very near future.

Thomson Gallery, 19 E. 75th St., New York NY 10019 (phone 212-249-0242)

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 50 W. 57th St., New York NY (phone 212-247-0082)

Garzoli Gallery, 930 B St., San Rafael CA 94901 (phone 415-459-4321)

Maurice Sternberg Galleries, Drake Hotel Arcade, No. Michigan Ave. at Walton St., Chicago IL 60611 (phone 312-642-1700)

Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Art, Washington, DC— Besides having some actual Costigan works in it’s permanent collection, The National Museum’s Slide and Photo Archives include the extensive Peter A. Juley Collection of fine arts photos, within which are 91 black & white photos of J. E. Costigan art works. (phone 202-357-1348) For an abridged listing, go to http://www.siris.si.edu/.

4. OTHER— At last report, the following major institutions owned multiple Costigans (two or more) that are, however, ordinarily viewable only on special occasions. Phone for more information:

Allen Memorial Museum, Oberlin OH (phone 440-775-8665)

Art Institute of Chicago (IL) (phone 312-443-3600)

The Art Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Pk. (phone 301-405-2763)

Brooklyn (NY) Museum of Art (phone 718-638-5000)

Brooks Museum, Memphis TN (phone 901-722-3500)

The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH (phone 330-743-1711)

Cincinnati (OH) Art Museum (phone 513-721-5204. Ask for Print Dept.)

Columbus (OH) Museum of Art (phone 614-221-6801)

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC (phone 202-639-1700)

Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (CA) (DeYoung Mem’l.) (phone 415-750-3600)

Los Angeles County (CA) Museum of Art (phone 323-857-6000)

Memorial Art Gallery of the Univ. of Rochester NY (phone 716-473-7720)

The Montclair (NJ) Art Museum (phone 973-746-5555)

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA (phone 617-267-9300)

National Museum of American Art, Wash., DC (phone 202-357-1959)

N. Y. (NY) Public Library, Art & Prints Dept. (phone 212-930-0800)

San Diego (CA) Museum of Art (phone 619-232-7931)

Springville (Utah) Museum of Art (phone 801-489-2727)

Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greenburg PA (phone 724-837-1500)

Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick NJ (phone 732-932-7237)

Footnote: A circa 1925 Costigan canvas, “Woman, Child & Goats,” is exquisitely reproduced in Mother & Child in Art, a handsome 160-page coffee table book by Casandra Langer, published by Crescent Books in 1992. A small reproduction of the full canvas on page 51 of the book is followed by a two-page spread of just a detail. (Click here for a comprehensive list of publications containing reproductions of Costigan’s work).

Source: jecostigandotcom