Michael Boucher was researching his great-grandfather's name online when a headline caught his eye.
It was in a story on the Laguna Beach Patch site in California, and it mentioned “Lars Thorsen,” his great-grandfather, so Boucher opened the story. There was a painting of a ship.
"He had a pretty distinctive style and I know it very well, so when I saw it, I knew it was something he painted," he said.
Boucher contacted the writer, reached the painting’s owners, and told them who he was. Wendy Potter and her mother, Barbara Painter, who live in Laguna Beach, said they had wanted to sell the painting to a relative. They agreed on a price.
Today, after 50 years in California, the painting will be packed up for shipping to Groton.
“It is amazing, and that they were looking for a relative to perhaps sell it to," Boucher said.
Lars Thorsen came from Norway in 1903 through Ellis Island, and was sponsored by Capt. Greene of Noank, Boucher said. Thorsen once navigated a coal ship through Long Island Sound to the Mystic River when the captain became sick. Years later, he worked as a rigger at the Mystic and Noank shipyards.
Thorsen started painting ships in the 1920s. By the 1930s, his work was on exhibit in cities including Boston, Chicago, Dayton and Miami.
Boucher was researching his relative after he gave a talk last fall at the . Boucher says he typed in Thorsen’s name and saw the Laguna Beach article.
Painter, who owned the art, told him her father had been in the publishing business, met Thorsen in New York, liked his work and bought the painting. The family saved not only the painting for years, but two letters Thorsen wrote about the work.
The ship was the “Prima Donna,” a medium clipper that was built in Mystic in 1858 and weighed 1529 tons, Boucher said. Sometime after 1883, it was sold and placed under the Austrian flag, although it kept the name.
“It's a very large painting, which is unusual," he said. "With the frame, it's 3-feet-11 inches by 4-feet-9 inches.”
His daughter, photographer and artist Heather Boucher, lives in Irvine, Calif., and went to Potter and Painter’s home on Friday to buy her great-great-grandfather's work.
Laguna Beach Patch captured the meeting in on Friday.
Michael Boucher, who retired from Pfizer and lives near Eastern Point Beach, said he’s rebuilding an area in his house, and he’ll hang the painting there.
"I feel like Lars has led me to his artwork, and it was meant to return to the family where it will be a treasured heirloom," he said.
He’s not sure how long shipping will take.
“I was excited to (find) it because of the ship and the size of the painting,” he said. “I had never seen a painting that big. But the story just built.”