Woman pays $4 for rare painting at thrift store that may now fetch $250,000 at auction

This painting, that was lost for over 80 years, was found in a Savers store in New Hampshire (Bonhams Skinner Auction House)
This painting, that was lost for over 80 years, was found in a Savers store in New Hampshire (Bonhams Skinner Auction House)

A woman in New Hampshire struck a bargain of a lifetime when she walked out of a thrift store with a famous painting, only to discover its worth over five years later.

The painting was purchased for $4 in a thrift store in Manchester, NH, and is expected to sell at auction for between $150,0000 and $250,000.

The buyer, who wishes to remain anonymous, was browsing a Savers in 2017, trying to find some antique frames to decorate her home. That was when an unusual painting stood out to her amongst the stacks of other posters and prints.

The shopper bought the oil painting without knowing it was an original by one of America’s most well-known illustrators, N.C. Wyeth.

N.C. Wyeth, a realist painter, is most known for his illustrations for the novel Treasure Island.

The oilwork hung on the buyer’s bedroom wall before eventually storing it away in a closet along with her school pictures, reports The New York Times.

She came across the painting in May, this time noticing a strange label on the back, supposedly a signature. She decided to upload the photos of the front and the back on Facebook on a page called ‘Things Found in Walls,’ Bonhams Skinner, the auction house that is selling the painting, told People.

It so happened that Lauren Lewis, an art conservator, came across the images on Facebook. She convinced the buyer and her husband to meet her in person with the painting to see if this was really a long-lost N.C. Wyeth.

The painting at this point had been lost for 80 years.

The buyer and her husband wrapped the painting in a blanket and placed it in the back of their SUV and drove up to see Ms Lews at a parking lot at a bus terminal, 90 minutes away from their house.

The painting titled ‘Ramona’ was commissioned for a novel of the same name by Helen Hunt Jackson (Bonhams Skinner Auction House)
The painting titled ‘Ramona’ was commissioned for a novel of the same name by Helen Hunt Jackson (Bonhams Skinner Auction House)

“They posted pictures of the front as well as the back, which was very helpful for me,” Ms Lewis told WHDH. “There were some labels on the back, so I was interested.”

“There are a few scratches, little dings, darkened varnish, but nothing unexpected to a pairing of that age that has, in my opinion, never been touched,” Ms Lewis added.

The Savers manager, Shaun Edson explained how they let such a substantial find slip through their fingers. “We look at all the donations we receive and we place a value on them as best we can,” said Mr Edson. “We are not connoisseurs of paintings. We do our best to evaluate the pieces and value them appropriately.”

“I wasn’t with the company in 2017,” he added. “Obviously we missed the boat.”

The painting was one part of a four-image set that Wyeth created in 1939, for an edition of the novel Ramona by Hele Hunt Jackson.  “In this image, Wyeth deftly portrays the tension between Ramona and her rigid and overbearing foster mother, Señora Moreno,” the auction notes state.

The painting is currently listed to sell between $150,000 and $250,000 on the Bonhams Skinner website, and will the bidding will go live on Tuesday at 12pm EDT.

For the family, this sale could be life-changing. “These are not wealthy people, it’s really great for them and it’s really great for the art world to find this painting again,” Ms Lewis.

The family are planning to pay off their bills and even go visit one of their children who currently lives in Germany, reports the New York Times.

The buyer, who now has a strong affinity with the painting, says she bought a copy of the 1939 version of Ramona on Amazon and will tear out the illustration to frame it.