A Canadian painting traded for a grilled cheese sandwich 50 years ago has sold at auction for a “staggering” CAD$350,000 (US$272,000).
Folk artist Maud Lewis’ Black Truck has sold for 10 times its estimate, setting a new high for a painter whose popularity has soared 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 Tuesday.
Prior to the weekend’s auction, the highest price ever for a Lewis work 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 gripped her body. While she and her husband sold roadside paintings to tourists visiting Nova Scotia, it was not until the decades after her death that her distinctive and cheerful work found international recognition.
Their struggles and achievements were documented in the 2016 biopic Maudie, which introduced Lewis’ work to a larger audience. The auction house said Black Truck’s buyer increased their original bid by $10,000 after seeing the film the night before the auction.
Irene Demas, who bought the plant as a young chef in exchange for a grilled cheese sandwich, told the Guardian in an email that she was “incredulous” at the sale.
She and her husband Tony had reached an agreement with artist John Kinnear that in exchange for grilled cheese sandwiches they could choose from a selection of paintings by Kinnear and, in some cases, works by his friends.
“Mind you, it wasn’t just your average grilled cheese. It was a great sandwich with five-year-old cheddar and beautiful bread,” Irene told the Guardian earlier this month.
One morning in 1973, Kinnear brought with him a series by the maritime artist whose distinctive style caught his eye and whose struggle tugged at his sympathies. Among those paintings was Black Truck, which has hung in Dema’s home for five decades.
In a series of letters, Lewis thanked Kinnear for his kindness and his generosity in providing their paints and prepared plaques. The three handwritten letters, also for sale, fetched C$70,000, well above their estimate of $5,000.