Maud Lewis painting once swapped for grilled cheese sandwiches sells for $350,000

The price of the 1967 13-by-11-inch black truck stunned the art world.Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd

A painting by Maud Lewis has just been sold at auction for the hammer price of $350,000. That’s a lot of cheese.

The price of 13 inches by 11 inches black truck 1967 stunned the art world, reaching 10 times its highest presale estimate and wiping out the previous record for a painting by the beloved Nova Scotian folk artist, who died relatively unknown in 1970 at the age of 67. was $67,250 (which includes an 18% premium paid to the auction house). The total amount paid for black truckwith the buyer’s premium added, is a whopping $413,000.

What explains the jackpot prize? The auctioneer has a surprising answer:

“Grilled cheese sandwiches,” said Ethan Miller, CEO of Miller and Miller Auctions Ltd., based in New Hamburg, Ont. “The biggest misconception is that people buy art because it’s a visual object and that’s the end of the story. But that’s really not the case, especially when it comes to a heroine like Maud Lewis.

The black truck The story, which has attracted international attention, is that the painting was acquired by sellers almost 50 years ago in exchange for grilled cheese sandwiches. In the 1970s, Irene and Tony Demas owned and operated The Villa restaurant in London, Ontario. Two of the regular customers were John Kinnear and his wife Audrey. The late Mr. Kinnear was an English painter who ordered one of Irene Demas’ grilled cheese lunches daily. He often traded his own paintings for meals.

As well as being in favor of fried bread and cheddar, Mr. Kinnear was a champion of Mrs. Lewis, a petite woman who had never had two pennies to rub, and even if she did, her deformed fingers by arthritis might not have been lifted. to the job. Mr. Kinnear would send Mrs. Lewis paint and prepared boards; in return, Mrs. Lewis would send back paintings which he would sell for her. In Nova Scotia, Ms. Lewis peddled her paintings by the side of the road near the cramped, not modern cottage she shared with her stingy husband. She could get $10 each. In Ontario, Kinnear could get double or triple that price.

One day in 1973, Mr. Kinnear brought in a selection of six Lewis works for the spatula wielding Ms. Demas. She was not impressed.

“I thought someone was playing a joke on me,” Ms Demas told The Globe and Mail after last weekend’s auction. “The paintings looked like something made by a child.”

Lewis’s brightly colored depictions of rural Nova Scotia indeed captured a childlike sense of happiness and innocence. Cats and optimistic winter scenes were often involved. Looking over the tables supported by glassware on the tables of the restaurant, Mrs. Demas settles on black truck, a simple depiction of a man driving his practical, motorized vehicle of his choice. “It just made me smile,” she said.

Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars later, she’s still smiling.

Three handwritten letters from Ms Lewis to Mr Kinnear, also owned by Irene and Tony, sold for $70,000 ($82,600 with buyer’s premium), well above their $5,000 estimate. Although Demas’ windfall came as a surprise, prices for Ms Lewis’s work have been steadily rising of late. Lewis’ market is literally hot in Smith’s Cove, Nova Scotia, where last year a pair of Lewis paintings were stolen from a seaside cottage. An appraiser valued the work at around $80,000 .

The 2016 biographical drama Maudie, which starred Sally Hawkins as Lewis, drew attention to the painter. Interest in Canada was further encouraged by a recent exhibition of his work organized by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario.

Black Truck sellers Irene and Tony Demas sold Maud Lewis’ painting at auction for $350,000 at auction.Jon Dunford/Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd

“This exhibit is very well curated,” said Alan Deacon, a Nova Scotia-based Maud Lewis expert. “It’s not all jumbled up.” The exhibition, which has been on tour since opening at the McMichael in 2019, will move to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria this summer.

Mr. Deacon knew Mrs. Lewis. In 1968, he visited her and bought an ox in winter paint. “It was still wet,” he recalls. “It was $10 and you couldn’t haggle the price.”

The auction price for black truck was haggled over and then some. Several bidders quickly pushed the price up to $100,000, but most participants dropped out at $150,000. The hardball action after $250,000 was between just a pair of eager prospects. A bully bid that bumped the price up from $330,000 to $350,000 sealed the deal.

Miller said the unidentified winning bidder was not a Lewis collector, but someone who had recently read about black truck and who had watched the Lewis biopic the night before the auction. The buyer was inspired by Mrs. Lewis and saw the history of painting and the simpler transaction of grilled cheese as a symbol of what is needed today.

“He told me he viewed the painting as a juxtaposition of how he had seen the world over the past two years, and he thought it was an example of how the world should be from of this day,” Miller said. said. “He wants to put the darkness behind him. That’s what he told me he saw in black truck – luminosity and optimism.”

The seller understands the buyer’s sentiment. “There is something magical about painting,” said Ms. Demas, now retired. “My husband and I loved it and took care of it for 50 years, but we’re not going to be here for another 50. We’re happy black truck is in a good place.

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