Paintings Separated at Birth

Discovery of An Artist’s Legacy

Steve was no Jasper Johns, an artist whose every work had a buyer even before he touched paint to canvas.

Nor, Andy Warhol, whose estate went to a foundation that came under a cloud

SWINGING ON ROPES.

Stephen Brophy, “Girl and Boy on Rope Swing I” and “Girl and Boy on Rope Swing II,” c. 1976, oil on canvas, dimensions TK

of shady dealings and lawsuits before it settled down to run the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and watchdog Warhol reproductions.

Nor was he Modigliani, who died young and consumptive with not enough works to his name to meet collectors’ demands for one of his haunting portraits of women.

LIKE STAINED GLASS WINDOWS.

Stephen Brophy, “Blue Boat” (l.) and “Seated Nude” (r.), c. 1975, oil on panel, 22" x 28" (l.) and 25" x 16" (r.)

A Prolific Unknown.

Steve’s multifaceted work spanned a forty-year period, from the 1960s through the 1990s, from the Bronx streets where he was raised to his adopted upstate New York, and elsewhere in and around New York City and suburbs.

He sadly destroyed a lot of early artwork (a Van Gogh moment?), gave away art to those who cared, sold some but not a lot in his lifetime, and didn’t seem especially interested in parting with anything. He liked living amid it all.

A couple of hundred works across mediums ranged in style (representational to abstract, gestural to geometric), subject (landscape, house, barn, cityscape) and size (intimate to atmospheric, including some quirky hexagonal and circular paintings).

But inevitably, over time, the work would start stacking up, making it difficult to find things. He wanted to know where everything was, but didn’t make a single record except in his head.

So, ugh, for me, his art executor. Hard to sort through the chronology. But as I do, I’m making discoveries.

Hidden gems and long-lost pairings.

Above are two sets of paintings. One is of children on rope swings, painted from a photo he found of kids unknown to him. I was familiar with the lighter one; the darker twin, well, it was newly unearthed in the stacks.

The other set, Blue Boat and Seated Nude, was hidden away. Both have the look of early modern French paintings, like Rouault, or of stained glass with its heavy black leading. Steve liked clunky tugboats and launched a boat of sorts that he and a friend built that promptly sank. He didn’t paint a lot of boats, nor nudes either — though his sketchpads are filled with nude studies.

THE SHAPED SANDY PAINTINGS.

Stephen Brophy, “Rip Van Winkle Bridge,” and “Dogs in Summer,” 1974?, oil on board, dimensions TK

There were a slew of 1970’s paintings in which Steve tried out this sandy palette. Picasso had his rose period; Steve had his ochre one. Some of these were shaped; others had phrases stenciled on their frames. In excavating his studio, though familiar with the dog roundrel, I thought the hexagonal Rip Van Winkle Bridge in a baby-blue background was a wonderful discovery.

THE FANS.

Stephen Brophy, “Fan I” and “Fan II,” 1991, oil on canvas, 20" X 24" and 20" X 32"

Fan I is hanging in my house. I did not remember that these fraternal twins were separated at birth. Alternate treatments on a theme are certainly not unique, but Fan II made a magical appearance in a coating of dust and cobwebs.

THE BANANA STILL LIFES

Stephen Brophy, “Still Life with Bananas I” and “Still Life with Bananas II,” c. 1979, oil on canvas, both 11" X 13"

This set of twins were separated… as young adults. Here’s the thing. Both of these paintings hung in Steve’s kitchen for years, and then one was gone. He told me he gave it away. So why was it hidden in a painting stack, waiting patiently to be reunited? Someone knows the real story here. But whatever happened, I’m relieved that these perfect, twin still lifes will never be separated again.


This is a story about some remarkable discoveries of Steve’s lifework: piled, stacked and out of view in the recesses of his studio and house. But while, yes, Steve was a prolific unknown, there were family and friends who were fiercely loyal to both the artist and the work. For all of us, this is a story of remarkable discovery and joy.

Stephen Brophy, “Untitled” and “Portrait of a Lady,” c. 1974, oil on canvas, dimensions TK
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