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The Accidental Discovery: A Wyeth Painting’s Journey

Ramona and Alessandro on the narrow trail

An unassuming purchase of an old frame in a thrift store in New Hampshire led to the discovery of an artwork by one of America’s most renowned illustrators, set to be auctioned soon.

A Serendipitous Purchase

A few years ago, a woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, walked into one of Savers’ thrift and antique shops in New Hampshire. Looking for vintage frames, she stumbled upon one containing a dusty and seemingly ordinary painting. At just $4, she decided to buy it. Once home, despite some online research, she couldn’t identify the artwork and stored it away.

Rediscovery and Identification

During a house cleaning session this year, the forgotten painting resurfaced. Recognizing the rise of Facebook groups dedicated to identifying art pieces, she posted a picture of the artwork. It wasn’t long before an art restorer, Lauren Lewis, approached her with a remarkable revelation. The painting was believed to be by Newell Convers Wyeth, an illustrious American artist known for his book illustrations. A closer examination by Lewis and consultation with Christine Podmaniczky, the leading researcher on Wyeth’s works, confirmed its authenticity.

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Newell Convers Wyeth: Ramona – Bonhams Skinner
Newell Convers Wyeth: Ramona – Bonhams Skinner

The Legacy of Newell Convers Wyeth

Wyeth began his studies under the tutelage of Howard Pyle, the nation’s top illustrator of the time, in 1902. He quickly rose to prominence, creating cover illustrations for renowned magazines like the Saturday Evening Post. His drawings were also featured in classic novels, including “Robinson Crusoe” and the 1911 edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”.

Upon closer inspection, it was revealed that the discovered artwork was one of four cover designs Wyeth crafted for the 1939 edition of “Ramona”, a novel by Helen Hunt Jackson. The story revolves around a young girl of mixed Scottish and Indian heritage. She finds herself entangled in adventures in post-US-Mexico war Southern California.

The Auction and Beyond

Another of Wyeth’s designs for “Ramona”, titled “Ramona and Alessandro on the Narrow Path”, was previously auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2014. It fetched a staggering $665,000 against an estimate of $300–500,000. How this recently found painting landed in a thrift shop remains a mystery. It might have been considered a “non-winner” left with the publishers, taken by an editor, or gifted to the novel’s author’s heirs.

Now, this accidentally discovered masterpiece is set for auction at the Bonhams Skinner auction house in Massachusetts. The auction takes place on September 19th, with a preliminary estimate of $150-250,000. It promises a potential significant return on the initial $4 investment.

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