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Julian Onderdonk, 'Blue Bonnets on Grey Day, North of San Antonio, Texas, 1916,' estimated at $60,000-$80,000 at Heritage.

Masterpiece Onderdonk painting saved from thrift-store fate tops Heritage’s June 29 Texas Art Auction

DALLAS — The painting was loaded into a trailer along with other donations and was headed to Goodwill. Once there, it would probably sit for ages and eventually, someone would notice its charismatic beauty and snap it up for a few dollars. Bluebonnet paintings — a mainstay of American West artists for a century — are not hard to come by, but this one was different. Whoever had packed the truck had either not noticed or not understood the signature Julian Onderdonk on the lower front and back of the canvas.

The woman on her way to a West Coast retirement home, whose family had packed her things, called out for it, saying, “It’s too pretty to surrender.” It had been a gift to her, sent to Illinois from an extended family member in Texas, to commemorate her birth in 1922; she had looked upon it all her life, and she wanted it on the wall of her last home. At the last minute, the painting was retrieved from the packed trailer, and the woman continued to enjoy the painting in her final years. Then, her Washington-based daughter fondly displayed it in her own dining room. No one in the family knew a thing about the artist.

That is, until recently, when the daughter and her son did some digging and realized that the work was an original by the man dubbed ‘the father of Texas painting’ — Julian Onderdonk himself — and that the work was a particularly stellar example from the acclaimed artist in his absolute prime.

Onderdonk, in fact, invented the entire category of bluebonnet painting, and no one has bested his oeuvre when it comes to capturing the state flower’s presence on the Texas landscape. This work, A Field of Bluebonnets, San Antonio, painted in 1921, has been consigned to Heritage and is one highlight of its Saturday, June 29 Texas Art Signature Auction.

“It was a family heirloom all these years,” said the original owner’s grandson. “But it was decoration. We hadn’t considered researching it. And now, it should go to someone who will genuinely appreciate it.”

“Heritage’s Signature Texas Art auctions always include great works, but this one is really special,” said Heritage’s Director of Texas Art, Atlee Phillips. “There is not a bad painting among the 107 lots of this small but highly curated auction. I cannot wait for collectors to see everything.”