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Woman buys a $4 painting that may be a $250,000 Wyeth

Woman buys a $4 painting that may be a $250,000 Wyeth
Posted at 7:55 AM, Sep 08, 2023

You never know what treasures you might find at your local thrift shop. But, in most cases, those treasures tend to be modest, if not merely quirky or sentimental. But a New Hampshire thrifter got lucky when she found a treasure that may just put her on Easy Street.

The woman was shopping at a Manchester thrift shop called Saver when she stumbled across an old picture. Ironically, it was actually the frame that caught her eye, as she was rehabbing old frames and thought the piece would be a good candidate for an update.

She shelled out just $4 for the framed painting. Later, after noting the artist’s name (N.C. Wyeth), she decided to post on a Wyeth fan page on Facebook to see if the painting had any worth. This is the painting:

Ramona painting by N.C. Wyeth
Bonhams Skinner

Little did she know that her innocent question would set off a firestorm in the art world.

“It started off with, ‘Is this real?'” Wyeth curator Lauren Lewis, with the Wyeth Study Center at the Farnsworth Museum in Maine, told NPR.

Lewis explains that the painting was an illustration for Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel “Ramona.” Jackson’s novel follows a woman named Ramona who is part Scottish and part Native American. Although the novel includes romance and thrills, Jackson wrote the book with justice in mind: She wanted to bring attention to the genocide of the Native American people at a time when most people were simply not interested.

The book included four illustrations from N.C. Wyeth, who also famously created illustrations for James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.” Wyeth was a Massachusetts-born painter and illustrator who was celebrated for his ability to bring American Western stories to life.

Exhibit visitor looks at Oil on canvas paintings by N.C. Wyeth
AP Photo/David Goldman

No one is sure how N.C. Wyeth’s painting for “Ramona” ended up at a New Hampshire thrift shop, but it’s a mystery that art curators hope may be solved as the story gains national attention.

So how much is this $4 thrift find actually worth? Hachette Book Group, the publishing group which bought out Little, Brown and Co. of Boston, the original publishers of “Ramona,” became the owners of another N.C. Wyeth illustration for Jackson’s “Ramona.” Hatchette went on to sell this painting (“Ramona and Alessandro on the Narrow Trail”)for $665,000 in 2014.

It’s expected that this newly found painting, which is simply called “Ramona” for now, will sell for around $250,000 or even more. It will be available for bidding with Bonhams Skinner starting Sept. 19.

Curator Lauren Lewis who examined the painting for legitimacy says she hopes the buyer makes the painting available for the public to view.

“There’s nothing like seeing an original painting,” Lewis told NPR. “I do hope that it remains in a collection that will be willing to lend it — or even give it to a museum.”

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