While browsing a New Hampshire thrift shop in 2017, an antique enthusiast came across a frame with an old painting inside. The shopper purchased the painting for $4 without realizing the art she just acquired was an original work by a celebrated American artist. Little did she know, the piece would soon be making headlines.
Appearing to bear the signature of prolific painter N.C. Wyeth, the buyer joked that the item might be a genuine product of the renowned artist. When an internet search yielded no information on the piece, the painting sat untouched for years.
After rediscovering the painting during spring cleaning, the woman posted an image of the work on a Facebook page called “Things Found in Walls.” Commenters on the post encouraged her to contact Lauren Lewis, a former curator familiar with the works of the Wyeth family.
The artist, Newell Convers Wyeth, was a prolific painter and illustrator in the early 20th century and the patriarch of the Wyeth family of painters. Some of N.C. Wyeth’s most recognized work includes the iconic, action-packed images created for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and other classic stories.
“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 explained.
In September, the piece sold at auction for a total of $191,000 including fees.
Titled “Ramona,” the painting is one of four pieces Wyeth created for a 1939 edition of Helen Hunt Jackson’s book of the same name. The painting features the youthful title character looking across a table at her elderly foster mother while a religious statue looms in the background.
Two of the four illustrations in this collection have now been accounted for. The other piece, known as “Ramona and Alessandro on the Narrow Trail” sold for $665,000 at auction in 2014 and can be viewed at the Brandywine Museum of Art with an extensive collection of Wyeth’s work.
Art enthusiasts like Lewis hope that this painting’s unexpected journey inspires others to take a second look at thrifted finds and dusty paintings in the attic. Perhaps someday, the other two pieces of the “Ramona” set will be found and displayed together for the public to enjoy.
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