NEW HAMBURG, Canada – A pair of paintings by the Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis (1901-1970) blasted through their pre-sale estimates to finish at a combined $501,500 (about $390,000), and a group of letters written by Lewis to a fellow artist and confidante hit $82,600 in an online Canadiana & Decorative Arts auction held May 14 by Miller & Miller Auctions, Ltd. All sums given in this story are in Canadian dollars.
Easily the top lot of the 407-lot auction was Lewis’s Black Truck, an oil on Masonite board painted in 1967. The springtime painting, showing a black truck, daffodils, blossoming cherry trees and a house, had an estimate of $30,000-$35,000, but aggressive bidders ultimately pushed the final price to a sum several times the high estimate.
“In a time of great turmoil and change, the art world lived vicariously through Maud Lewis and her art, setting three new world records with the three lots offered, including the highest, Black Truck, at $413,000,” said Ethan Miller of Miller & Miller Auctions, Ltd. “It raises the stage for her works to unimaginable heights.”
The other Lewis painting was titled Oxen Pulling Logs and also dated to 1967. It featured a snowy scene of a driver with oxen hauling logs, with prominent evergreen trees in the background, and changed hands for $88,500.
Wedged between the two paintings was lot 336, a group of three letters from Lewis to John H. Kinnear, dated 1966-1967. Few letters by Lewis exist, and these offered a glimpse into her fascinating world. Kinnear, himself an artist, corresponded with Maud Lewis from the time she became famous in the mid-1960s up until her death in 1970.
Kinnear would send the artist pre-primed Masonite boards, brushes and requested paints. In return, Maud would send the finished paintings for Kinnear to sell and he would then return the proceeds to Maud in Marshalltown, her home. In this respect John Kinnear acted like Maud’s agent in Ontario. The letters sold to a determined bidder for $82,600.
Additional highlights from the May 14 auction include a circa-1825 powder horn made and signed by John Tansel. It was a true slice of Americana, carved with a federal eagle with shielded breast, arrows in one clawed foot and a leafy vine in the other. It ultimately sold for $22,420. The 11 ½in-long cow horn was signed “J.T.” on the side of the eagle. John Tansel was the eldest son of the famed Kentucky horn carver Francis Tansel.
An equestrian-themed painting, a circa-1880 watercolor and pencil on paper rendering of the thoroughbred Princess Louisa by Joseph Swift (Canadian, 1832-1889), commanded $10,030. Also, a circa-1925 oil on canvas winter scene by Canadian artist Homer Ransford Watson (1855-1936), titled Outskirts of Hespeler, brought $5,310.
The auction featured a group of early 20th-century cold-painted so-called “naughty” bronzes by Austrian artist Franz Xaver Bergman (1861-1935). All were signed “Nam Greb,” which is Bergman spelled backward – his attempt to appear anonymous to avoid possible civil condemnation or penalties for lewdness or immorality.
Bergman’s bronzes included a seated Buddha that opened to reveal a figure of a nude woman with a headdress, which realized $9,440; a Geisha attired in a kimono that opened to reveal her nude and gilt patinated figure, which attained $8,850; a sarcophagus opening to reveal a gilt patinated female nude figure with a diadem in her hair, which earned $7,670; and a female exotic dancer wearing a robe that opened to reveal her partially nude figure. This last sold for $6,490.
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The current rate of exchange is dollar CA 1 = 77 cents.
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