NEW HAMBURG, Ont. –
Hungry for uplifting news, a western Canadian man stumbled upon the story of a painting being auctioned. The work of famous Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis had been traded in the 1970s for grilled cheese sandwiches. Recently it was appraised before the auction at around $350,000.
“There’s not a lot of good news out there, and then I came across this little article,” the buyer, who wishes to remain anonymous, told CTV News.
“I hadn’t really heard of Maud Lewis.”
The man recently purchased the painting for a record $350,000, five times more than any Lewis painting previously sold and 10 times the estimated price.
He and his wife had watched a film about Lewis the day before the auction and said they thought it would be nice to be part of the story behind the painting, which depicts a black lorry on a rural road.
“For four or five years I’d been telling my wife I was looking for a little black truck and I think I found it,” he said.
The stunning price of the painting has always attracted collectors.
“Galleries that have these things for sale, immediately nothing is for sale because the prices are calibrated,” said Ethan Miller of Miller & Miller Auctions, which listed the painting.
Lewis, who died in 1970, lived much of her life in poverty in a one-room house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. She suffered from debilitating arthritis and sold her paintings on the side of the road, often for $5. She sought paint from local fishermen and her works have been described as cheerful, cheerful and childlike. They often resembled scenes of rural life, including landscapes and wide-eyed cats.
“She had no training, but I think that’s what people love so much,” said Justin Miller, who co-runs the auction house in New Hamburg, Ont.
“As we come out of the pandemic, I think people are looking for exciting things, colorful things, fun things,” he said.
Another of Lewis’s oil paintings, depicting a yoke of oxen, also sold at auction for $70,000, the second highest price ever paid for one of his works.
Bill Mayberry is an art dealer who has sold more than 250 of her paintings since the 1980s. He says sales will likely raise the tide on most of Lewis’s paintings, noting that she originally sold her art on Christmas cards for pennies.
“She would be completely amazed and bewildered by the amount of attention her work has received in recent years. The kind of numbers she could never have even imagined,” Mayberry said.
The truck paint, one of three known, was obtained by Irene Demas and her husband Tony almost 50 years ago. The couple operated a restaurant in London, Ontario, and a regular customer was local artist John Kinnear. Kinnear had helped Lewis with supplies and in return she had sent him several of her paintings. He offered six to Demas in exchange for grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.
“One of them caught my eye was the black truck. It was a very bright and very joyful little painting,” Demas said.
“I was pregnant with my son and thought he would be cute in the baby’s room.”
She chose only one painting.
Almost 50 years later, she can’t believe it was sold for so much money.
“I wish I had taken all six,” she said with a chuckle.
She hopes the story will draw more attention to Lewis, who has spent most of his life in obscurity.
“I think it’s time for Canadians to notice her more and appreciate her.”
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