Maud Lewis sold her paintings on Nova Scotia roadsides but found a larger audience after a documentary chronicled her life and work
A Canadian painting that was swapped 50 years ago for a grilled cheese sandwich has sold at auction for an “astounding” C$350,000 (US$272,000).
Black Truck by the folk artist Maud Lewis sold for 10 times its assessed value, setting a new high mark for a painter whose popularity has surged in recent years.
“In a time of great turmoil and change the art world lived vicariously through Maud Lewis, her story, and her art,” Ethan Miller, head of the Ontario auction house, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Before the weekend auction, the highest price ever recorded for a work by Lewis was C$67,250.
Lewis lived in poverty for most of her life and her output as a painter declined in her final years as the effects of rheumatoid arthritis took hold of her body. While she and her husband sold paintings by the roadside to tourists visiting Nova Scotia, her distinct and cheery work did not receive international acclaim until the decades after her death.
Her struggles and success were documented in the 2016 biopic Maudie, which introduced the work of Lewis to a larger audience. The auction house said the purchaser of Black Truck increased their initial bid increment by C$10,000 after watching the film the night before the auction.
Irene Demas, who as a young chef acquired the work in exchange for a grilled cheese sandwich, told the Guardian in an email she was in “disbelief” at the sale.
She and her husband, Tony, had an arrangement with the artist John Kinnear that in exchange for grilled cheese sandwiches, they would be able to choose from a selection of paintings by Kinnear and in some cases, works by his friends.
One morning in 1973, Kinnear brought in a series by the Maritime artist, whose distinctive style caught his eye and whose struggles tugged at his sympathies. Among those paintings was Black Truck, which has hung in Demas’s house for five decades.
In a series of letters, Lewis thanked Kinnear for his kindness and his generosity in supplying her paints and prepared boards. The three hand-written letters, which were also up for sale, fetched C$70,000, far above their $5,000 estimate.