8-Year-Old Painting Prodigy Racks Up $250K in Art Sales

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Proving that it's never too early to carve out a career niche, an 8-year-old painting prodigy is making big bucks selling her canvasses to grownups.

Autumn de Forest took a break from third grade this morning to fly across the country and appear on "Today" with her mom and dad and her colorful -- and increasingly pricey -- collection of paintings in tow.

Her work, which draws comparisons to artistic masters including Picasso, Warhol, Dali and Matisse, has been sold by the dozens at auction for a total of about $250,000. The highest price paid for one of her paintings is $25,000. It's called "People Are Strange," inspired by The Doors song of the same name, according to "Today."

The Las Vegas grade school student was 4 years old when she brought home an art project from preschool: a watercolor she called "Elephant," she tells Matt Lauer. Mom and Dad say her depiction of the animal was abstract with pronounced brushstrokes that they found very deliberate and "startlingly artistic."

"At first we did think it was a fluke," says Autumn's mother, Katherine, who appeared on "Today" with her daughter. "We were scratching our head and thought it was an anomaly and interesting."

But, when Autumn was 5, her masterpiece moment came when she traded in her kitchen table canvas for big-sized plywood in the garage.

"I turned away," says her dad, Doug, on "Today." "And what seemed like a few moments later, I turned back, and I swear to you it was as if [abstract expressionist painter] Mark Rothko had done some kind of mid-century masterpiece. Certainly, it was simple and abstract, but profound in its simplicity. It was just kind of a wonderful moment."

So, the proud parents bought her canvasses and supplies "to see what would happen," Doug says.

Autumn, who turns 9 this month, has never taken formal instruction, although her parents believe she would benefit from it and would like her to start, they say on the show. So far, her work is the result of pure intuition, imagination and inspiration. She painted "The Messenger," depicting a fetus attached to its umbilical cord, after going to an exhibition with her mother at age 5, and becoming fascinated with a display of a pregnant woman.

Though her parents are in creative fields, neither is a visual artist. Doug is a musician, Katherine an actress. There are, however, several accomplished and collected painters in Doug's family: Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932), George de Forest (1855-1941) and Roy de Forest (1930-2007), who was part of California's "funk art" movement, the family says on "Today."

Despite her success, Autumn is modest about her talent and isn't squandering her earnings, which the family is saving for college.

"I love my paintings, but I'm not the bragger of my paintings," she tells Lauer. "If someone is going to pay a huge amount of money to buy my painting and if they know I'm going to spend it to buy a bunch of Barbie dolls, they know you're going to waste your money on something not important. But people know the money is going into my education, maybe even art school."

These days, she says painting is a daily ritual.

"I do it every day," Autumn says. "I try to do as much as I can ... I do my best."

But it looks like Autumn has some male competition on the painting prodigy front from across the pond. Kieron Williamson, 8, has been called a mini-Monet by the British press. The Norfolk, England, youth's deft brush strokes, like those of a seasoned artist, have been hailed for their likeness to the French impressionist.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.