The $4 N.C. Wyeth Painting Finally Sold—for Real This Time

The work sold for more than $100,000 to a private collector.

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

A back-and-forth drama involving a thrift-store find, mammoth prices, and drop-out buyers has drawn to a close as an N. C. Wyeth painting purchased for just $4 has finally found a buyer. The work has been sold via Aviva Lehmann of Heritage Auctions at a public library in Keene, New Hampshire, to a private collector for more than $100,000.

In 2017, a thrifter looking for a frame in a New Hampshire Savers actually ended up with a valuable artwork by the American painter and illustrator N. C. Wyeth. It was revealed to be one of four potential covers for the 1939 edition of Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel Ramona, which shows a key moment in the plot between the eponymous heroine and her adopted mother Señora Moreno.

After posting the painting in the Facebook group, “Things Found in Walls,” Tracy Donahue was soon alerted to the rarity of her find. The painting was put up for auction on September 19 at Bonhams Skinner in Marlborough, Massachusetts with an $150,000 to $250,000 estimate.

At Bonhams’ American Art sale, the painting sold for $191,000 (including buyer’s premium) to an Australian buyer. Donahue and her husband Tom were reportedly looking forward to using the money to pay their bills and fund a trip to Germany to visit one of their children.

But in November, it was reported that the sale had fallen through. The buyer never paid for the work, and the Donahues collected the painting from Bonhams. Donahue told the New York Times, “We’re crushed… I’ve never gotten that close to, you know, hoping for something.” The couple received an offer from Bonhams to sell the work privately, which would guarantee them at least $132,750 if a buyer was found but the couple refused.

Lehmann, after learning about how the non-sale, reached out to a private collector and swiftly sold the work. She called the result “kismet.” Donahue told the New York Times that she had made doubly sure that payment for the painting went through.

With the funds from the sale, the Donahues are planning on taking that Germany trip, adding that they want to purchase a new dishwasher and intend to “pass it forward” this Christmas time.


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