A painting by David Bowie purchased last summer at a donation centre in rural Ontario for $5 is expected to fetch upward of $12,000 at auction this coming week. The semi-abstract portrait by the Changes singer is a small acrylic and computer collage on canvas, dated 1997, with Bowie’s signature on the reverse.
The painting is titled DHead XLVI. It was found in a Goodwill shop in South River, Ont., a village some three hours north of Toronto. The identity of the portrait subject is unknown, and the name of the painting’s owner has not been revealed.
“She was taken by the painting itself at first,” said Rob Cowley, of the Toronto auction house Cowley Abbott, referring to the mystery owner. “Then she saw the printed label on the back that identified it as a work by David Bowie.”
The piece https://cowleyabbott.ca/artist/david_bowie is part of Cowley Abbott’s coming International Art Auction, running online June 15 to 24. With the opening of galleries after the long lockdown caused by COVID-19, auction pieces including DHead XLVI can be viewed in person by appointment at the downtown gallery beginning June 16.
The polymathic British rock star, who died of liver cancer at age 69 in 2016, was both an avid collector and a prolific producer of visual art in his lifetime. A portion of his personal collection of fine art and design pieces grossed US$41.1-million at a Sotheby’s sale after his death.
DHead XLVI is from Bowie’s Dead Head series of portraits of friends, family members and bandmates painted from 1995 to ‘97. Self-portraits were also part of the series – one of which sold at auction in Glasgow for £22,500 in 2016.
Bowie’s signature has been independently verified by a London-based expert. According to the Toronto auctioneers, there are “no issues” with the canvas. “The frame has a few scrapes and scratches,” said Cowley, “which is not uncommon with a work that has not been hanging on a wall.”
A second sticker on the back of the painting establishes that it was framed in 1997 by John Jones Art Centre. The London establishment specializing in conservation framing is no longer in business, but, according to its still active website, they’ve framed “for royalty, rock stars, A-list actors, world leaders and captains of industry.”
Prized works of art unexpectedly found in down-market places tend to attract attention that transcends traditional artworld circles. Pieces worth millions of dollars have been known to pop up in attics, garages and second-hand stores, often purchased at piggy bank prices.
Famously, a California woman bought a large “drip and splash” style abstract painting for $5 at a thrift store in 1992. Told later it was likely a work by Jackson Pollock worth millions, the trailer-home dweller reacted with bewilderment and expletives. A 2006 documentary about her story is entitled Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?
“It does happen,” said Cowley, about surprise jackpots. “One can go to a Goodwill store and stand there with their phone and research what they think holds potential value.”
In 2016, “Houses of Blocks” on Wellesley Street, a watercolour by Polish-Canadian artist John Kasyn, was found in a Toronto second-hand shop. It went for $2,640 at Cowley Abbott.
The auction house is offering free virtual consultations throughout June and July for those interested in learning more about an artwork they own and receiving auction valuations.
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