Shropshire woman missed out on chance to snag van Gogh original for free in 1960s

By Rob Smith | Shifnal | News | Published: | Last Updated:

A Shropshire woman who had the chance to snag a van Gogh original for free in the 1960s was astounded to see it turn up at a sale valued at up to £12 million.

Vincent van Gogh’s Peasant Woman in front of a Farmhouse. Photo: Martin Bailey of The Art Newspaper

Last week Vincent van Gogh’s Peasant Woman in front of a Farmhouse was sold at the Tefaf fair in Maastricht to a mystery buyer for an unknown price, but the valuable painting has an illustrious past, having previously resided at Billington Farm, near Stafford.

The original owner was John Holme, who lived in Billington and supplied corn and straw in the area.

The painting has been authenticated and traced back to Billington Farm where it was sold in 1967 by Uttoxeter-based auctioneer Bagshaws, which deals with cows and sheep along with occasional consignments of second-hand farm equipment.

Unrecognised as a Van Gogh back then, the landscape picture went for £4.

But before the sale, a young Gaye Horrell was given the chance to take the picture for free by her in-laws, the Holmes, who had acquired the painting.


Mrs Horrell, now 76 and living in the Cotswolds, said: "I was born at Shifnal Cottage Hospital and lived at Grindle House, outside Shifnal.

"[In 1967] I was living in Stafford, married to Tim Holme, elder son of Charles Holme.


"My in-laws Charles and Molly Holme had the sale of household bits and pieces alongside the farm sale – I was told to choose something for myself beforehand.

"I saw the picture and immediately liked it.

"The painting looked old, very dirty and uncared for, and it had a hole in it, but I still liked it.

"They persuaded me it was not worth having and not to bother with it.


"As I was advised not to bother I have seen various articles about its life after the sale, but there was not a lot I could do.

"Oh dear, how very naive of me. Of course, in those days I couldn’t argue with them and ended up with a brass handbell.

"I learnt my lesson the hard way, this taught me! I enjoyed sales after that.

"I was thrilled to see someone had the good fortune to have owned it."

Rob Smith

By Rob Smith

Senior reporter for the Shropshire Star based at Ketley in Telford.


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