The painting by American artist N.C. Wyeth was one of four illustrations he created for the 1939 edition of the novel Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson.
A woman searching for old frames at a thrift shop accidentally struck gold when she found a lost N.C. Wyeth painting for only $4 — though she wouldn’t know it until six years later.
Now, experts estimate the painting will sell for as much as a quarter of a million dollars at auction.
In 2017, the shopper found a “quite heavy and dusty” painting in the middle of a stack while shopping at a Savers in New Hampshire and purchased it for $4.
“Not knowing what she had found, she joked about it being a real painting,” a spokeswoman for the Bonhams auction house said, according to CBS News Boston. “But after not finding anything in a quick internet search, didn’t give it another thought.”
The new owner then decided to hang the painting in her room, later storing it in her closet. Years later, she came across it again during spring cleaning.
Curiosity re-piqued, she posted some photos to a Facebook group called “Things Found in Walls” — which caught the attention of Lauren Lewis, a conservator from Maine.
“I am used to seeing copies of Wyeth paintings or paintings by other artists who might have been influenced by him being attributed to the artist falsely, but there were things about these photos that caught my eye,” Lewis said, according to Smithsonian.
Lewis drove three hours to see the painting and determined it was “actually legitimate and valuable,” the auction house said.
“While it certainly had some small scratches and it could use a surface clean, it was in remarkable condition considering none of us had any idea of its journey over the last 80 years,” Lewis said in an interview with the Boston Globe.
The painting was one of four illustrations by Wyeth for a 1939 edition of the Helen Hunt Jackson novel Ramona. The auction house believes the painting is an original and was likely a gift from Wyeth or the book publishers to the editor or Jackson’s estate. The location of one of the other illustrations is known, but two of the four are lost.
Kathleen Leland, a specialist in American and European art at the auction house, said the back of the frame provided evidence the painting was an original.
“Beginning in the mid-1930s, Wyeth used a particular type of artist board — Weber ‘Renaissance’ panels, distinctive for their red backs and elaborate labels — and this was the case for this painting,” Leland said.
Leland said that she has seen a handful of cases where someone didn’t realize an artwork they were in possession of was valuable — but it doesn’t happen often, especially not by someone with no knowledge of the art world.
Wyeth was one of the most well-known illustrators of the early 20th century, with his biggest success being the illustration of the 1911 printing of the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. His son Andrew was also a famous illustrator who received the 2007 National Medal of Arts.
“[N.C. Wyeth’s] work was renowned for its ability to increase the drama and character development of the accompanying text, something he achieved with vibrant, action-packed scenes, vivid colors, and a skillful use of light and shadow,” the auction house said.
The painting is set to be sold on September 19 at Bonhams Skinner’s American Art auction in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
After reading about the thrifted masterpiece, read about another thrifted artwork that turned out to be a signed Salvador Dalí wood print. Or, read about the painting by David Bowie bought for $4 at a landfill.