A very lucky man won’t be forgetting his visit to Ucluelet anytime soon after discovering he had struck oil at a second-hand store.
The man recently brought a painting he had purchased for $10 into Ucluelet’s Mark Penney Gallery where Penney confirmed it was a very rare Ken Kirkby oil painting titled ‘Winter Field’ worth over $3,000.
Penney told the Westerly News the out of town man first contacted him about six months ago to enquire about the painting after noticing Ken Kirkby’s signature on it.
“This guy’s in a second hand store with his girlfriend and his girlfriend is trying on clothes and looking at things and he said there were two paintings there that caught his attention: a portrait and this one,” Penney said.
“This black and white painting is literally not colourful; it’s a very plain, simple painting but it draws you in to some of the brush techniques because there’s not a lot of colour impact.”
The man liked the painting and paid its $10 asking price without knowing how shrewd an investment he had just made.
When he brought it home his girlfriend noticed Kirkby’s signature and an online investigation led them to understand who Ken Kirkby is.
The man remained skeptical of the painting’s authenticity however so he emailed Penney to enquire about it.
“I recognized Ken’s signature, I recognized Ken’s work, what was unusual about the painting though was that it was monochromatic, or black and white,” Penney said.
“I had heard Ken mention once that upon returning from his epic saga up North for six-plus years in the arctic he had come back to Vancouver and taken his paint kit out of storage and the paints had been ruined because they were frozen…the paints had separated and were unusable with the exception of some black and some white.”
Penney said Kirkby used the paints to create about 10 oil paintings during a hunting trip in Iona Beach in 1968.
“He pulls out his paint kit and all of the paints are wrecked and most of the brushes too, he said, so there was only a couple of brushes and he ended up whittling one with a pocket knife to a stick-point and using it as a palette knife,” Penney said.
“He just sort of lightheartedly made, he said at least seven but no more than 10, of these little paintings and they were all done on various leftover canvas wrap boards…They’re all standard sizes but they’re not all consistent in size.”
The oil paintings were sold for $200 each.
Penney has one of the rare paintings in his gallery, titled Snowfall (Northern Lights).
“They all look very much like this one does…kind of crude very monochromatic but they have evidence of some of his (Kirkby’s) best techniques,” he said.
“This particular piece that were looking at now shows the Northern Lights but because it’s in black and white there’s none of the usual distinct green of a Northern Lights depiction but what’s neat about it is there’s a lot of sheen to the painting so you’ve got some luminosity by other methods.”
Penney said he assured the man the $10 painting was an original Kirkby but the man remained skeptical and traveled to Ucluelet to find out for sure at Penney’s gallery last week.
“He brought the painting in and he was still quite skeptical as to its authenticity and also its value,” Penney said.
When it came time to put a price on the painting, the man was shocked by Penney’s response.
“I said ‘I think you’d be silly to let go of it for less than three’ and he said $300? And I said, ‘No $3,000,’ so he was quite surprised,” Penney said.
“The price was set at $200 in 1968. This gentlemen acquired it, a very savvy buyer I would say, by chance but either way he acquired it for $10 and was looking to figure out what it was he had to find out it really is worth above $3,000.”
He said the man has decided not to sell the painting at this time and purchased an autographed first edition Kirkby biography from the gallery.
“In the art world occasionally paintings by famous artists show up in weird places, estate sales and the like,” Penney said noting a Lauren Harris was purchased in New Zealand for about $5 and turned out to be worth over $50,000.
“In Ken’s case, this is a living artist but still a very high profile painter and what makes these more valuable is that they’re very rare. There really was less than 10 paintings made in this particular style and always the story behind a painting can add value, or at least a lot of interest, and in this case it makes for a fascinating story and anybody whose got a painting like that is surely proud of it.”