Janet Gwendolyn Smith Art

Man Fishing Attribute Claude Monet

Signature & Taxation


Why did an American artist sign a European painting?

Researched and written by: Janet Gwendolyn Smith

American artists frequently studied, painted and traveled in Europe. The American artists flocked to Monet’s Giverny to paint. American artists, art dealers and travelers aware of the duty on art would sign their own names to the art of European artists to avoid paying taxes. In some cases the art came to America with no signature because it was a study. This art was considered educational for exhibition or art academic study. This classification of imported art was transported to the US duty free. In 1907 the US government started indictment proceedings against American art dealers and US citizens for evading the duty on imported European art.

The following citation written on the occasion of the Paris Impressionist's exhibit in New York City supports this fact:

Luther Hamilton, The Work of the Paris Impressionists in New York, The Cosmopolitan (June 1886) p. 242.

“No sooner were they seen in New York than various of the more intelligent critics and patrons of art cried out with zeal that this picture and that ought to be kept in the country. It is easy for everybody to see what a revolutionizing lift Lerolle’s great picture he calls “The Organist” would give that stupid Metropolitan Museum of ours, for instance; But all plans for the purchase of any picture in this collection must perforce, be of the character of the ways that are dark and, all too probably, in the line of tricks that are vain.”

The "ways that are dark" is deception created by adding an American’s name to a picture, to keep it in America or transport it to America. The "tricks that are vain", is someone other than the creating artist, who signs the work and gains credit for it's creation. (Janet G. Smith, January 31, 2005)


Any art imported from abroad to America was heavily taxed under the “33 Tax” from 1882-1891 at the rate of 33.3 percent. The duties/taxes were levied when the art arrived in America.

“Free Art” was one political platform during William Jennings Bryan’s campaign for the Populist Movement. “Free Art” was no taxes/duty on art coming to America from abroad. The "33-Tax" had an adverse effect on American art and repeal of this tariff was a hot topic. This platform was designed not only to encourage the new middle class and wealthy to support the Populist Movement, but to allow immigrants to bring inherited or family art to America.

This protectionist tariff was designed to assist the regional American artist. In reality the tariff created the perception, that American art was less valuable than European art. The economics created by American dealers recouping the tariff by increasing the price of imported art to the consumer confirmed this perception. No doubt the inclusion of “Free Art” as a Populist political platform encouraged Congress to make a change.


Albert Williams, Mineral Resources of the United States, (Washington, GPO, 1883) pp. 777-787.

Appendix. The New Tariff. "At the close of the 2nd session of the 47th Congress the tariff bill entitled 'An act to reduce internal-revenue taxation, and for other purposes,' was passed. It was approved by the President March 3, 1883, and is now in force."

Ibid. p.777. Sec. 2502. "There shall be levied, collected, and paid upon all articles imported from foreign countries, and mentioned in the schedules herein contained, the rates of duty which are, by the schedules, respectively prescribed,"

Ibid. p. 777. Sec. 2503. Free List. "Works of art, painting, statuary, fountains, and other works of art, the production of American artists. But the fact of such production must be verified by the certificate of the consul or minister of the United States indorsed upon the written declaration of the artist; paintings, statuary, fountains, and other works of art, imported expressly for the presentation to national institutions, or to any State, or to any municipal corporation, or religious corporation or society."

Ibid. p. 778. Sec. 2508. "All paintings, statuary, and photographic pictures imported into the United States of exhibition by an association duly authorized under the laws of the United States, or of any State, for the promotion and encouragement of science, art, or industry, and not intended for sale, shall be admitted free of duty, under such regulations as the Secretary of Treasury shall prescribe. But bonds shall be given for the payment of United States of such duties as may be imposed by law upon any and all of such articles as shall not be re-exported within six months after such importation."

Wildenstein, Claude Monet (1840-1926) A Tribute to Daniel Wildenstein and Katia Granoff, Exhibition Catalog. NYC April 27-June 15, 2007, (Wildenstein Publication, 2007) p. 85.

"September 1883 American Exhibition of Foreign Products, Arts and Manufacturers, the introduction to the catalogue stated, By the Act of Congress of the United States, approved by the President of the United States June 28, 1882 all goods intended for this exhibition are admitted to remain in bond FREE OF DUTY while on exhibition.”

John Rewald, Durand-Ruel: 140 Years, One Man’s Faith, Art News 42 (Dec 1943) pp.177-179.

"The USA art dealers in 1887 created problems for Mr. Durand-Ruel Monet's by the enforcement of the government import duty."

Annie Cohen-Solal, Painting American, (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2001) p. 75.

“...1888 Durand-Ruel returned to New York...but found himself prohibited to sell them: American art dealers, incensed by his shrewd businesss sense as well as his monopoly over painting by the French Impressionists, had in the interim, demanded that the government apply the '33 Tax'-a 33.3 percent duty on the works of art imported from abroad. However, this trade barrier couldn't alter one simple fact: after thirty years of profitless toil, the French Impressionist had finally found a market."

Ibid. p. 107. "Tax on imported products had been raised from 10 to 33.3 percent in 1883."

Ibid. p. 108 "Whistler...'I will only come back to America when the customs laws on art are withdrawn.'"

Ibid. p. 109 "In 1887, Jean-Leon Gerome wrote a lengthy, withering letter of protest...All over the world works of art were duty free. In one country alone were they saddled with an excessive tax and that country was the youngest, the greatest and the wealthiest of nations."

Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1965) p. 789.
"The populist planks were free and limitless coinage of silver at a ratio of 16:01, free art league, produce sub-treasuries similar to the 1780s, 8 hour work day, and other platforms."

Sarah Wool Moore, History and Art, 1888, (Nebraska State Historical Society Publication-UNL, 1892) p. 40
"Works of art should be welcomed to our country as are intelligent emigrants, there should be no admission fee, but like people who crowd to our shores, they should be required to play their part in the development of our race."

Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Charles M. Kurtz Papers 1843-1990, Finding Aid, last date accessed/July 15, 2007.
Biographical Note -1907- accused of importing German pictures free of duty for exhibition purposes and then selling some for profit.

Kimberly Orcutt, Buy Art? The Debate Over the Art Tariff, (American Art, Vol. 16, No 3, Autumn 2002) pp 82-91.
"Not surprisingly, the dollar value of foreign art works imported to the United States plummeted from over $3 million to $637,000 in the first year of the 30 percent tax."

Man Fishing was researched, compiled & written by: Janet G. Smith

KSH Fine Art acknowledges and thanks Janet Gwendolyn Smith, independent art consultant, for her contributions, including forensic/academic research, travels and expertise in researching the study "Man Fishing".

Janet Gwendolyn Smith, ISA a member of the International Society of Appraisers assists fine art owners with their collections. Smith has dedicated the last eight years to art research of the nineteenth century. She is a published author and contributes American artist biographical research for publication on the AskArt website. Forensic digital images and digital x-rays are her expertise. Partnering with the LODOX Corporation, her research utilizes the Statscan x-ray technology to review art throughout the United States. The summer of 2006 the art x-ray research was exhibited on a poster in Osaka, Japan at the International Computer Assisted Radiology and Surgery (CARS) Conference. Smith has reviewed 137 authenticated Monet’s throughout the United States.

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Janet Gwendolyn Smith Art