(CNN) — When an antiques enthusiast bought a painting that appeared to bear NC Wythe’s signature at a thrift store in 2017, she joked that the item she’d picked up for just $4 might actually be a genuine work by Wythe’s great artist and father. A family of Maine painters. His humor is no laughing matter, and the painting is estimated to sell for up to $250,000 at auction in September.
According to experts at Bonhams Skinner auction house, the seller unwittingly purchased the work at Savers thrift store in Manchester, New Hampshire, while looking for frames to reuse. According to the auction house, the Wyeth painting is hidden against a wall with mostly damaged posters and prints.
The woman took the piece home, but a quick internet search turned up no information about the work. He hung the painting in his bedroom for years and finally put it in a closet at home.
The woman rediscovered the painting while cleaning last May, and this time she posted images of the work on a Facebook page titled “Things Found on Walls,” which is “dedicated to the stories of things you find on the wall. In the backyard or in the abandoned house in front of your grandmother,” according to the group’s description.
Comments on this post led me to contact Lauren Lewis, who has worked with three generations of Wyeth’s paintings: NC Wyeth, his son Andrew Wyeth, and his grandson Jamie Wyeth. After witnessing it, Lewis was “99% sure it was real,” he told the Boston Globe.
“While it certainly could have some minor scratches and some surface cleaning, none of us know its journey over the last 80 years,” Lewis told the Globe.
Wyeth made covers for publishers of magazines and novels. The painting, which will go up for sale in September, is one of four he completed for the 1939 edition of Helen Hunt Jackson, originally published in 1884. The idol of the foster mother, a religious figure, looms among the women.
Of this series of illustrations, according to Bonhams Skinner, only one has yet been recovered. Auction house experts believe that Little, Brown and Company may have given the work to a publisher or the author’s estate.
The highest bid for any member of the Wyeth family was last year at Christie’s New York sale of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection, where Andrew Wyeth’s 1980 painting “Daydream” sold for more than $23.2 million. Seven times the initial estimate of $3 million.