One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It’s the motto that second hand, consignment, antique, and thrift shops thrive off. Most often, one finds trinkets, items with sentimental attachments, or bits and bobs, but in one North Carolina thrift shop, a print turned out to be a major treasure. Priced between just $10 and $50, the print was found to be a 1950s illustration of Dante’s 14th century The Divine Comedy by none other than Salvador Dalí.
Created by the surrealist in the 50s, the print began as a commission from the Italian government to create a series commemorating the anniversary of Dante’s birthday. However, before the prints were completed, the commission was rescinded when Italians became outraged that a Spaniard would be creating the works. Dalí, though, was so interested in the project, he continued his work, which resulted in a series of 100 watercolour paintings. Each of the paintings represented a different chapter in The Divine Comedy and were subsequently reproduced as wood engravings that required no less than 35 individual wood blocks, per painting, to recreate.
Nearly 70 years later, the print, titled Purgatory Canto 32, found its way to Hotline Pink Thrift Shop in the small town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a part of the Outer Banks better known for its association with the Wright brothers famous flight. “One day,” said Wendy Hawkins, a biweekly volunteer at the thrift shop, who discovered the print, “I saw [the print], with a bunch of other paintings lined up on the floor, and I said ‘this is old, this is something special.’” Signed by Dalí, who is most known for his melting clocks, Hawkins decided to have an expert check the print out.
That was when Hawkins contacted Melanie Smith, a local gallery owner to examine the work in order to know more about the work. “I researched and researched and researched and just when I would ask myself, ‘Do I think I have this right?’ I would go out and research some more,” said Smith in an interview with NPR. For more than a week, Smith worked with the print. “Dalí is very difficult to authenticate because there’s so many nuances with his work,” continued Smith. It is known that Dalí authorized many prints of works, some of which he signed, so the print’s authenticity was a priority for Smith.
After hours of research, Smith became certain that Purgatory Canto 32 was the real deal. Unfortunately, there is no way for Hotline Pink to know who donated the print, but Smith was able to help sell the artwork. Ultimately, the artwork sold for $1,200 to an interested couple. The proceeds of the sell will go to a nonprofit organization that helps teens who are victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.