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David Bowie painting bought for five bucks in South River sets a record, selling for over 100 grand

Valuable art can be found in the most unexpected places, as well as in your own backyard

SOUTH RIVER — A "bidding frenzy" on a David Bowie painting discovered in a South River thrift store set a new record when it went up for auction this week.

See: Valuable David Bowie painting bought for $5 in South River donated goods shop

The distinctive painting by the music icon sold for more than 10 times the low-end of the auction estimate to a private collector in the United States. 

The final bid was $90,100, but add in the commission to auction company Cowley Abbott and it pushes the price paid to $108,120.

The painting was discovered last summer in a pile of discarded goods, in a thrift store next to South River's municipal dump. The buyer picked up the treasure for just $5.

"We were certainly surprised, "Rob Cowley, president of Cowley Abbott, told BayToday about the final price. The original auction estimate was in the $9,000 to $12,000 range.

"There had been other work, other portraits from the D-head series that had actually sold below 20 thousand. Taking into account we were offering it in Canada. and there hasn't been works by David Bowie offered here in the past, we were conservative. Obviously, we were happy to be wrong," said Cowley."We're delighted but obviously surprised at the final result."

The painting is titled D Head XLVI, which is part of a series of approximately 45 works on canvas that Bowie titled Dead Heads (or D Heads),
The sale marks a new global auction record for a work by David Bowie, more than doubling the 2016 sale of a D Head series artwork for $39,000 CAD in the United Kingdom. 

Cowley feels the oddity of the story behind the find played a role in boosting the price.

"In a collector's mind, a work that is newly discovered is always exciting. The story played a role in the fact that it provided so much exposure for the painting. It brought it in front of collectors globally. We had inquiries and registrations from around the world.

“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,” explained Cowley.

The buyer was an American collector. The seller wants to remain anonymous, but Crowley will say it is an Ontario woman. "The consignor of the painting was astonished upon viewing a label which read 'David Bowie' and realizing it was the signature of the artist inscribed on the reverse."

D Head is one of several works of art to recently set an auction record with Cowley Abbott. Another painting also came from northern Ontario from a Muskoka resident – a large-scale canvas by Jack Bush, Column on Browns, that set a new global auction record for the artist, selling for $870,000. 
“Valuable art can be found in the most unexpected places, as well as in your own backyard,” says Lydia Abbott, Vice-President of Cowley Abbott.  “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.” 

What advice does Cowley give to those finding artwork in their attic or their local dump?

"It's always a good idea to check. We provide that service for free. Especially if you are parting with work or selling it in a garage sale, something like that. Check and make sure you don't have a work that may have some value at auction."
For more information about Cowley Abbott, upcoming auctions, and appraisals, go to

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Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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