Painting by David Bowie found in Ontario thrift store sells for $108,000

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      A 1997 painting by famed recording artist David Bowie that was found in a donation centre for household goods in rural Ontario has sold for more than $100,000.

      The artwork, a 9.75- by 8-inch portrait of an unnamed person, was purchased for $5 by someone looking through a pile of discarded goods at the thrift store outside a landfill near South River, Ontario, about a three-hour drive north of Toronto, according to auctioneers Cowley Abbott.

      Cowley Abbott did not identify the painting's consignor but described them in a June 11 news release as "astonished upon viewing a label which read 'David Bowie' and realizing it was the signature of the artist inscribed on the reverse".

      The painting—described in a label on its back as an "acrylic and computer collage on canvas" and titled D Head XLVI—is part of a series of 47 portraits painted by Bowie between 1994 and 1997 and called "Dead Heads" (or "D Heads").

      On the painting's back, next to Bowie's signature, which the Toronto-based Cowley Abbott said it had verified with an "art and signature specialist in the United Kingdom", is the date "97".

      David Bowie on tour in Chicago in 2002.
      Wikimedia Commons/Adam Bielawski

      The auction company said in a later June 24 release that the portrait sparked an international "bidding frenzy" during an online auction from June 14 to 24, finally selling for $108,120, about 10 times the original estimate of $9,000 to $12,000.

      The final price also more than doubled a C$39,000 2016 United Kingdom sale price of a Dead Heads series painting.

      “Our gallery was inundated with calls and interest for the Bowie painting throughout the duration of our online auction of international art," Rob Cowley, president of Cowley Abbott, said in the later release. "It’s a phenomenon we call the Hollywood Effect, when there is a famous name attached or when there is an extraordinary set of circumstances such as rarity or human-interest story behind the artwork."

      Bowie—a hugely influential English musician, songwriter, singer, and actor who sold more than 100 million records worldwide and who died of cancer in 2016 at the age of 69—studied art in high school and was well known for painting and for collecting art.

      The reverse of the painting titled D Head XLVI shows David Bowie's signature and the artwork's date of creation.
      Cowley Abbott

      An auction after his death of about 65 percent of his personal collection, which included works by Henry Moore and Jean-Michel Basquiat, realized about $41.5 million. Bowie told the BBC in 1999 that "the only thing I buy obsessively and addictively is art". 

      Bowie's "Dead Heads" series featured unnamed subjects who have variously been described as his friends, acquaintances, band members, and even some self-portraits. The rock star was said to have been influenced by British painter Francis Bacon; that Irish-born artist painted a series titled "Head" in the late 1940s.

      Cowley told CBC that it's not always those knowledgeable about art who make significant finds in out-of-the-way places. "Oftentimes it’ll be collectors,” Cowley said. “It’ll be people who have an eye for art and know art. And so they might be looking through the artwork at Goodwill and they might see something and realize, ‘Oh, that does look to be an original work or a print that has some value.’

      “But sometimes you get these cases where the individual is not a collector and who just sees something that catches their eye, and this was the case here.”

      “Valuable art can be found in the most unexpected places, as well as in your own backyard,” Lydia Abbott, vice president of Cowley Abbott, said in the June 24 release. “We often come upon an important work of art that has been inherited or has been in a family home for many years without the owners knowing anything about the artist or value of the work.”