Thrift stores can be great places to find budget-friendly large frames. But a trip to a Savers location in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 2017 yielded much more for one bargain hunter, with a $4 painting now estimated to be worth as much as $250,000.
According to Bonhams auction house, the artwork was actually an oil panel illustration by the artist Newell Convers Wyeth, father of the more-famous Andrew Wyeth. The painting was one of four cover illustrations for a 1939 edition of the Helen Hunt Jackson novel Ramona.
The dramatic scene portrays the novel’s title character—a half-Scottish, half–Native American orphan living in Southern California after the Mexican-American War—”and her rigid and overbearing foster mother, Señora Moreno.” The book was originally published in 1884.
The painting was signed by Wyeth in the upper left and in ink on a label affixed to the back of the frame. However, the thrift shopper did not find any initial information through a quick internet search, simply hung it up in their bedroom for several years, and eventually stored it in a closet.
In May of this year, the consigner posted some images of the painting online in a Facebook group called Things Found on Walls after taking the work out while cleaning. The consigner was quickly directed to the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Pennsylvania, which showcases the work of several artists in the Wyeth family, as well as conservator Lauren Lewis.
Lewis drove three hours to meet the painting’s owner in Portsmouth and view the work in person. Lewis’s level of excitement “was the first time the consignor realized it was actually legitimate and valuable,” according to Bonhams.
During Wyeth’s career, the American artist created more than 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books, working for companies like Scribner’s and publications like the Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s Monthly, and Ladies’ Home Journal.
The painting is believed to be most likely a gifted from the publishers Little, Brown and Company to an editor or to the estate of the author. The auction house has given the painting an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It is scheduled to be auctioned on September 19 in Marlborough, Massachusetts.