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  • Camille Basso

A painting by N.C. Wyeth for €3.80, the unlikely find of an American woman

Second-hand shops can be a treasure trove of unlikely items. This was recently discovered by an American woman - who prefers to remain anonymous - after finding a rare painting by N.C. Wyeth... for just $4 (€3.80). Last September, she was able to sell the work at auction in Marlborough, Massachusetts, and raise $191,000 (€180,000). This profit, too big to put a figure on, seems to have come straight out of fiction.

Photographie de l'illustration de Ramona, par N.C. Wyeth
Ramona, par N.C. Wyeth

In 2017, an American woman from New Hampshire bought a painting from a Savers second-hand shop while she was looking for old frames. Despite the originality of the painting, the woman quickly forgot about it and put it away in a cupboard. At the beginning of 2023, while spring cleaning, she wondered about the origin of the painting and the possibility of reselling it. She posted several photos of the work on Facebook and asked her contacts to help her identify it. One thing led to another, and the American was able to determine that it was a rare copy by the illustrator N.C. Wyeth. She decided to entrust the painting to the Bonhams Skinner auction house in Massachusetts.

The auction house's experts were quickly able to confirm the authentication of the work. According to them, the painting is one of four frontispiece drawings by N.C. Wyeth for an edition of Helen Hunt Jackson's novel Ramona, published in 1939. The story depicts the life of a young orphaned woman of Scottish and Native American descent who is adopted by a Mexican-American family. Wyeth's illustration depicts Ramona facing her adoptive mother, Señora Moreno, in a pose that is particularly defiant of her icy ways.

The experts at Bonhams Skinner do not understand how such an illustration could have found its way into a second-hand shop. In fact, the rarity of the painting and the success of its author enabled it to fetch $191,000 (€180,000). The auction house had estimated it at between $150,000 and $250,000 (€141,000 and €236,000).

In her testimony to the New York Times, the former owner of the work said that this exceptional sum would help her pay many bills and visit one of her children in Germany. To keep a lasting souvenir of her find, she has also bought an original copy of the novel Ramona and wants to have it framed.

N.C. Wyeth, a genius of illustration

Born in 1882 in Massachusetts, Newell Convers Wyeth is one of the greatest American illustrators of the 20th century. He brought to life some of literature's greatest heroes, including Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, King Arthur and the Last of the Mohicans. He also designed the covers of many literary classics, such as Stevenson's Treasure Island. At the turn of the century, he also created the logos and visuals for a number of now international companies, including Coca-Cola and Lucky Strike. In a career spanning more than 40 years, this key figure in the world of illustration produced more than 3,000 drawings and illustrated no fewer than 112 books. Considered a genius by specialists, he is said to have contributed to the success of many literary works of his time.


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