Articles At A Glance




All photos courtesy of  Sothebyís American Furniture and Folk Art, Collection of Mark


Watercolor theorem painting fire screen. C.1830.


One of a Pair of watercolor theorem paintings. C. 1830.









News Article

Theorems, Old and New, Appeal to Folk Art Collectors.

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, July 2009

Would you recognize a theorem painting if you saw one? This stylized art form begins with using stencils cut in various shapes, such as leaves. When a subject, such as a basket of flowers is decided upon, the

stencils are placed in various positions. They are filled in, usually with watercolors. 19th century theorem painters traced a design on transparent paper, cutting out the pattern and creating a stencil. A  good example of stenciling would be the Hitchcock chairs.


When collectors began searching for theorem paintings in the 1970s, along with all kinds of folk art, it also became a revived craft that continues today. The result is that both antique and contemporary

theorems show up on EBay. While antique theorems werenít always signed, contemporary versions by such artists as David Ellinger and William Rank are signed. Often the prices are competitive with antique theorems.

Stencil painting is known to go back as early as 9,000 BC. Prehistoric man placed his hand on the cave wall and blew pulverized pigment around it.


European immigrants introduced stenciling to early American colonies. Often itinerant artists traveled from town to town decorating floors and walls with stenciled designs.


By the early 19th century, theorem painting on velvet or Bristol board had replaced embroidery as the pastime for genteel women. Painting on velvet was a painstaking process as each stencil was placed on the

velvet and held firmly in place by tacks or weights as each was painted.


The more skilled artists were able to create shading. Theorem painting all but ended by the 1840s.However, velvet examples dating after 1840 have turned up.


CLUES: Theorems on velvet donít command as high a price as those on paper or wood.


One of the problems can be condition, such as stains. Usual subjects were flowers and fruit. However in a recent Sothebyís January auction of folk art a theorem had two colorful parrots as well. Another novel

example of theorem art was a fire screen, c.1830 at the same auction.


Check out examples on EBay. The more complicated the design the higher the price. Signatures, provenance (documentation) and a date add to the value. Rarities, such as those done in Grisaille (shades of gray) get top dollar. They were difficult to do.


Theorems can sometimes be dated by the style of the glass container or basket containing fruit and flowers. For example pressed glass compotes, often used in theorems werenít made before the 1830s.


Be sure if you pay for an antique theorem that it is antique. Many repros were made in the 1970s, 80s.



Join Our Mailing List


For Email Marketing you can trust


If you have any questions, you can Email us at

The Antique Shoppe
"Florida's Best Newspaper for Antiques and Collectibles

PO Box 2175, Keystone Heights, FL 32656-2175
Phone: (352)475-1679 Fax: (352)475-5326

[Top of Page | Editorial Archives | Home]
Copyright © 2009, Antique Shoppe Newspaper