A Woman Bought a $4 Painting at a Thrift Store for Its Frame. Now, It’s Been Revealed as an N.C. Wyeth, Worth as Much as $250,000

The painting was identified as the work of iconic American illustrator N.C. Wyeth, thanks to help from a local conservator.

N. C. Wyeth, Ramona Cover (1939). Image courtesy of Bonham's.

Sometimes a frame is worth more than a picture. That was the hope of one woman as she searched through a stack of old frames during a trip to Savers, a thrift shop in New Hampshire a few years ago.

Among the old posters and damaged prints, a framed dusty painting stood out, and the woman bought it for $4. After she did some brief research online and failed to identify the work, she stored it in closet. There, it was quickly forgotten about until May of this year, when the woman stumbled across the painting during a spring clean and decided to post the work on the Facebook group “Things Found in Walls.”

Soon enough, she was connected with Lauren Lewis, an art conservator based in Maine, whose excitement seemed to suggest she may have been accidentally storing something special. It quickly became clear that the simple frame was of much lesser value than the striking scene within, which was revealed to be by the renowned painter and illustrator N.C. Wyeth.

Newell Convers Wyeth, Ramona. Image courtesy of Bonhams

The American painter, who was born in 1882 and died in 1945, enjoyed a multi-decade career producing illustrations for periodicals and novelists. The thrift shop painting has been identified as one of four possible cover designs for a 1939 edition of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel Ramona, which tells the life story of a fictional girl of mixed Scottish and Native American heritage, who was orphaned shortly after the Mexican-American War ended in 1848.

Here, Wyeth portrays a tense moment in the plot when Ramona takes on a defiant pose against her adoptive mother, Señora Moreno, whose frosty manner is well communicated by an austere black dress. It is not yet known how the artwork ended up at a thrift shop in New Hampshire.

This excellent example of Wyeth’s sensitive and stylish interpretations of literary work is about to hit the auction block on September 19 during an American an sale at Bonhams Skinner in Marlborough, Massachusetts. It has been given an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.

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