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David Bowie
Via Wikimedia Commons

David Bowie painting bought for $4 at a landfill set to sell for over $50k

Rumour has it the seller has been dancing in the street

In a thrift store success that puts Macklemore to shame, one lucky shopper bought a painting by David Bowie at a Canadian landfill for just $4.09 (£2.38) and is now set to make tens of thousands more as the work goes to auction.

An unnamed seller picked up the artwork at the entrance of a rubbish tip in Ontario, and didn’t realise who it was by until they spotted Bowie’s signature on the back, alongside a label confirming the painting’s name (“DHead XLVI”) and date (1997).

Experts have confirmed the authenticity of the piece, which is part of a series of 47 canvas paintings by Bowie, titled Dead Heads, and created between 1995 and 1997. Each work is labelled “DHead” with unique Roman numerals following.

Speaking to CNN, Rob Cowley, the president of Cowley Abbott, the auction house handling the sale, said the seller isn’t an art collector, but just someone who saw and liked the painting. “They thought it was an interesting painting before they turned it around and saw the labels on the back,” Cowley explained.

After being contacted about the work in November, Cowley Abbott reached out to Bowie expert Andy Peters to help authenticate it. As well as collecting Bowie autographs for decades, Peters has been authenticating the musician’s signature since his death in 2016.

“When I first saw the painting, I knew what it was straight away,” Peters told CNN, explaining that he remembered the piece being sold on a Bowie art website back in the early 2000s. “I did not need to see the autograph on the back because I knew, but obviously the signature sealed the deal.”

“The confusion lies in that he changed his signature so much during his 55-year career,” continued Peters, “but there are certain nuances in every single autograph that forgers cannot replicate.”

The auctioned work depicts a side profile portrait of a figure, whose hair – painted in blue and red – merges with the background. The person has no facial features, and their gender appears deliberately ambiguous. Cowley Abbott describes the painting as “an energetic and enigmatic portrait”, adding that, in the Dead Head series, “Bowie drew inspiration from the Ziggy Stardust era”. The series features paintings of Bowie’s friends, family, and other musicians, as well as self-portraits of the musician himself – none of the subjects were ever identified.

This isn’t the first time a rare piece of Bowie memorabilia has been discovered in a bizarre place. In 2018, the musician’s first demo with his band The Konrads was found in an old bread bin – the lost 1963 recording ended up selling for $40,000 (£29k) at auction.

For those who want to try their luck at this newly-discovered painting, the current bid is over $50,000 (£36k). If you have the money going spare (LOL), you’ve got until June 24 to bid here.