An anonymous woman from New Hampshire did not know that she had purchased an antique piece of art that had been lost for over 80 years.
Thrifting is a popular pastime, offering the thrill of stumbling upon hidden treasures within humble secondhand stores. It could be a rare collectible figurine, some legendary artist's first edition records, a notable personality's belonging, or, in this case, a lost piece of art. When a woman from New Hampshire was doing some thrift shopping, she found something incredibly valuable without her knowledge.
According to The Art Newspaper, the woman who happens to be an antique enthusiast purchased a painting that appears to bear the signature of Newell Convers Wyeth, a painter from the late 1800s. The woman joked that the painting she got for a mere $4 might actually be the real work of the prolific American artist who was also the patriarch of the Wyeth family of painters. Little did the woman know that her simple purchase would end up fetching an estimated $250,000 at a Bonhams Skinner auction in September 2023.
The anonymous woman who initially purchased it from the thrift shop found the artist's lost work at Savers thrift store in Manchester, New Hampshire, while she was searching for frames to reuse. The lady took the painting home and did some research on the internet about it, but she couldn't find anything useful. After hanging the art on her bedroom wall for several years, she ended up storing it in a closet in her home.
The woman fished out the painting in May 2023 while cleaning and posted pictures of the art piece on a Facebook group called Things Found In Walls. Comments on her post connected her with a former curator, Lauren Lewis, who had experience working with the paintings of the Wyeth family's three generations. Upon watching the pictures posted by the unnamed woman, Lewis was 99% certain that it was authentic, as reported by The Boston Globe.
"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 told the outlet. Christine Podmaniczky, a curator at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, studied the art and confirmed that it was likely the original piece painted by Wyeth. The painting, which is going up for sale, depicts a young woman named Ramona facing her elderly foster mother, Señora Moreno.
I just finished a surprisingly good novel, Helen Hunt Jackson's classic tale of late-19th-century California, RAMONA (1884). Here's my Amazon review: https://t.co/8TT2dfEKLw.— Rick Barry (@RickBarry44) February 24, 2020
[Art: N. C. Wyeth illustrations for the 1939 Little, Brown and Co. edition] pic.twitter.com/a9weMs7Xmj
This painting comes under one of the four the artist made for a 1939 edition of Helen Hunt Jackson's book "Ramona," originally published in 1884. Lewis also remarked how this sale could benefit the family of the anonymous woman. Moreover, it is incredibly rare to find an original painting in a thrift store. "These are not wealthy people and I'm thrilled that, as she said, this could be life-changing for her," Lewis told 7News Boston. "It's really great for them and it's really great for the art world to find this painting again."
In 2022, during the sale of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's collection at Christie's New York, the auction set a record for any member of the Wyeth family. In the sale, Andrew Wyeth's "Day Dream" from 1980 sold for $20 million ($23.2 million with fees), which was more than six times its $3 million high estimate.