This 19th century painting by an unknown artist is being sold at auction at Sotheby’s. The auction ends Thursday. The starting bid is $20,000. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

HALLOWELL — A 19th century oil painting showing Hallowell’s downtown from the Chelsea side of the Kennebec River is being sold at auction at Sotheby’s.

Bidding for the painting starts at $20,000, but a Sotheby’s estimate has valued the painting at between $30,000 and $50,000.

The painting is listed as a piece from the estate of Margaret P. Gregory of Connecticut, the sister-in-law of well-known folk art collector Stewart Gregory.

Founded in London, Sotheby’s, now headquartered in New York City, is one of the world’s largest brokers and auctioneers of art, jewelry, real estate and other collectibles.

The painting is dated circa 1860, according to the listing, and measures 35.5 inches wide and 20.75 inches deep. The painting has minor cracks and age-related wear on the canvas, according to auction information.

State historian Earle Shettleworth said he came across a black-and-white photograph of the painting about a year ago in the collection of the Hubbard Free Library. The back of the photograph is stamped with the name of the Connecticut Historical Society. However, when Shettleworth contacted the group, it did not have record of the painting.

Shettleworth said he had given up his search for the painting until about a week ago, when a friend told him to look at a listing at the Sotheby’s website.

“When I opened up the computer and there was the image, it was the same picture I had seen in the photograph,” Shettleworth said.

The Hubbard Free Library’s photograph is not the only record of the painting. Shettleworth said the Gregory family has been in possession of the painting since at least 1971, when it was seen in a photograph that ran with a story about their property in an antiques magazine.

While little is known about the painting, the age of the art was determined by the presence of the bridge connecting Hallowell and Chelsea, which was constructed in 1860, and destroyed by floods in 1869 and 1870. Shettleworth said that range can be narrowed to 1867 because the configuration of Hallowell Cotton Mill on the left side of the painting.

“In 1867, the cotton mill was raised by a story and took its present day configuration with a flat roof,” Shettleworth said. “In the painting, this hasn’t happened yet.”

The painting is not signed, and neither Sotheby’s nor Shettleworth have been able to confirm the artist. Shettleworth said he is combing through newspaper archives, which date back to 1796, at the Hubbard to find mention of the painting.

“We know very little about artists who were working in the Augusta, Gardiner, Hallowell area in the 1850s and 1860s,” Shettleworth said.

Shettleworth said he had looked through newspapers from 1863 and 1864, but found no mention of the painting. However, an editorial note in the Hallowell Gazette from August 10, 1861, has given him hope a mention of the artist could be coming.

“Beautiful View — The City of Hallowell from the elevation of the Chelsea side of the river,” the note reads. “We doubt if there is another city or village in the Union better adapted to receive the immortalizing charm of a painter’s brush.”

The painting features numerous historic landmarks of Hallowell, including the Old South Congregational Church, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, First Baptist Church, Cox Memorial United Methodist Church and Row House. Rafts, schooners and a steamboat are also floating down the river, which harkens to the city’s history as a bustling river port.

Helene Farrar, president of the board of directors at Hallowell’s Harlow Gallery, said the Sotheby’s estimate of the painting’s value could be inflated to generate more income from the auction. She said the value could also be affected negatively because the artist is not known.

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