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Antiques Considered - June 8, 2011

A writer from California has inquired about this painting of the historic Chamberlin Hotel at Old Point Comfort in Hampton.  The artist was Hughson Hawley, who inscribed and signed it in 1893.

The Chamberlin sits at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, adjoining Fort Monroe and the casemate where Jefferson Davis spent a year in prison after the conclusion of the War Between the States.  It overlooks the entirety of Hampton Roads, and for over a century was one of the most popular resorts in America.

The Old Bay Line terminal adjoined the hotel, which provided lodging for travelers arriving by steamboat. A short hop away was the ferry terminal for the crossing of

Hampton Roads to Norfolk, the largest naval base in the world.  From a maritime perspective the site was a busy confluence of ship lanes of all types.

Hughson Frederick Hawley was an Englishman who was born in Brighton in 1850.  He became a theater set designer and an artist who specialized in painting cathedral interiors and other architectural subjects.  In 1879 he emigrated from his native country to the United States, where he remained until his death at 86 in 1936.  As an artist he specialized in watercolors, and became renowned for his ability to paint a variety of scenes and subjects.

Personally, I have great childhood memories of my parents taking me to the Chamberlin, where I recall meeting the Virginia Attorney General, J. Lindsay Almond, who later became Governor of the Commonwealth.  The present neo-classical building replaced the ornate Victorian one in the watercolor.  The latter, the second hotel on the sight, had burned in 1920.  This building went through an illustrious history, but it faded over recent decades, and a few years ago it was converted into a retirement community, offering apartments and assisted living to senior citizens.

Hughson Hawley's paintings have a strong record of good prices at auction, ranging from nearly $1,000 to $3,000, but given the famous Virginia subject of this one, here in the Old Dominion I should suspect an even higher figure could be achieved.  In the old days the hotel had a small room off the upper lobby that served as a museum in which the public could see scenes and artifacts from the hotel's past.  Jefferson Davis might not have enjoyed his stay at Old Point comfort, but thousands of others have over the past century and a half.  In his painting Hughson Hawley very well captured the dramatic setting of the former hotel.

Happy Antiquing!

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