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Woman Turns Down Free Painting – Turns Out To Be A Van Gogh Worth $16 Million

Woman says “no thanks” to a free Van Gogh painting worth 16 million dollars.

"Paysanne devant une Chaumière" Vincent Van Gogh/ © Simon C. Dickinson Ltd, London

We’ve all made decisions we regret.

Maybe you threw out your leftover Chinese food only to awaken at 2 AM craving that one last egg roll now buried in the trash. Perhaps you shrugged off a Facebook invitation just to experience severe FOMO later that night, scrolling through pics of your friends partying while you eat the egg roll you dug out of the garbage. For one 76-year-old British woman, the decision not to take a free painting cost her the chance to sleep on a bed of cash for the rest of her life. 

The painting was “Peasant Woman in Front of Farmhouse,” an original Van Gogh now worth almost 16 million dollars. Oops! But hey, she got a brass handbell instead. Those are always useful. 

In the 1960’s, Gaye Horrell lived in Stafford, England with her husband. His folks, Molly and Charles Holme, owned Billington Farm. When the Holmes decided to auction off a few household goods in 1967, they offered their daughter-in-law the chance to pick what she wanted first. 

Gaye admired an old painting they had of a woman standing in front of a farmhouse, but her in-laws poo-pooed her taste. “The painting looked old, very dirty and uncared for, and it had a hole in it, but I still liked it. They persuaded me it was not worth having and not to bother with it,” Horrell told the Shropshire Star. She couldn’t argue with her in-laws, she insists. She chose a brass handbell instead.

User Oosoom on en.wikipedia / CC BY-SA
© Martin Bailey/ The Art Newspaper

Poor, poor Gaye. The Holmes went on to sell the painting for a mere $5. (At least they made a couple bucks?) The painting had apparently been in the family for a couple generations, nobody aware of its real worth. 

According to Martin Bailey at the Art Magazine, the painting wound up later that year in a London junk shop. There, the eagle-eyed resident Luigi Grosso spotted its signature: “Vincent.” Grosso paid only 45 pounds for the painting, but suspected it was worth much more. And he was correct. 

The Van Gogh Museum of Amsterdam later authenticated the painting, affirming that Van Gogh painted it in 1885 while he was living with his parents. An, X-ray of the artwork revealed an earlier composition underneath it, similar to another Van Gogh painting. The destitute Van Gogh reused canvases to save money. Oh, the irony.

The painting made its way through the art world over the decades. It was recently sold through Dickinson, a fine art dealer in London, bringing in an estimated 16 million dollars to its American owner. At least someone is sleeping on a bed of cash. 

Let’s hope Gaye got a lot of use out of that brass handbell.  

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