It pays to be discerning at thrift stores! Flea market and thrift store enthusiast Katherine Mathews loves browsing at Warehouse 839, a Saco, Maine, shop that specializes in everything from estate furniture to nick-nacks. In April, she was drawn to a 13-inches-by-19-inches watercolor with the signature E.W. Brooke while rummaging through the warehouse. She paid $45 for the image of a Japanese woman and a child. On her way home, she stopped in a grocery store parking lot to look up the name on her iPad. She soon saw a Vincent van Gogh connection. The 19th-century painter Edmund Walpole Brooke shared a friendship with Vincent van Gogh just before van Gogh committed suicide in July 1890. Brooke had grown up in Japan, a place that fascinated and inspired the Dutch painter. The two went on painting trips together into the French countryside.
“He is a very enigmatic person,” Tsukasa Kodera, a curator and professor of art history at Osaka University in Japan, said of Brooke. Kodera spent almost 10 years hunting for information about Brooke but finding a Brooke painting stymied him. At least until now. Mathews, with the help of her husband, John, made contact with Kodera after reading about his work. The professor thinks they have probably discovered that rare thing, an original Brooke.
Kevin Keraghan, who owns the Maine shop, acquired the painting about 15 years ago from the estate sale of a family in New Hampshire. That family had originally come from California, which Kodera thought a good sign since two of Brooke’s brothers lived there.
No value has been attached yet to the painting, which is currently being authenticated.