50 years ago, this Maud Lewis painting bought a grilled cheese sandwich. Now it’s up for auction


A Maud Lewis painting received as payment for a grilled cheese sandwich at a restaurant in London, Ontario nearly 50 years ago is expected to fetch up to $35,000 at auction.

The painting of a black truck driving on a road is the work of one of Canada’s greatest folk artists, died in 1970 in Digby, Nova Scotia, at the age of 69.

It was designed for London artist John Kinnear, who took an interest in Lewis and then posed as a stranger, selling roadside paintings for as little as $10 in his native Nova Scotia .

Kinnear used to regularly send Lewis paintings and prepared boards, according to Irene Demas, who knew Kinnear when he and his wife Audrey were regulars at the downtown restaurant she owned with her husband Tony in the 1970s.

“They had lunch outside the window and almost every day they were there,” Demas said. “We didn’t really have a tab. I don’t know how it went with my husband, but John and Audrey were having lunch and we ended up with a painting.”

Lived for the grilled cheese sandwich

Kinnear was English, very reserved and, apparently, a creature of habit. Demas said the only thing he ate was grilled cheese sandwiches.

A painting by artist John Kinnear of the Villa, the restaurant at 434 Richmond St. owned by Irene and Tony Demas, and where Kinnear was a regular. (Submitted by Irene Demas)

“He wouldn’t try anything else,” Demas said.

“I was a young chef in my twenties, and the culinary world was changing and there were new things I wanted people to try, and I couldn’t get him to eat anything other than a grilled cheese sandwich.”

Demas recalls one day when her husband Tony came into the kitchen where she worked to tell him that Kinnear had brought a number of paints and wanted her to choose the one she liked. She walked into the dining room to find the colorful paintings on the chairs and leaning against the glassware on the tables.

“Did a child paint this?” »

“I just took a step back because it was very, very different from anything I had ever seen before,” she said. “At first I thought, ‘Is this some kind of prank they’re playing on me? Did a kid paint this? It’s so primitive and childish.'”

Kinnear told Demas the story of a “bird-like” woman he had met in Nova Scotia and began to help develop the struggling artist by sending him supplies and helping him with his efforts to sell his paintings in Ontario.

“I really had a hard time choosing a painting that I liked,” Demas said. “I remember seeing the cats, the cows, or the oxen, and none of them caught my eye as much as this little black truck.

Maud Lewis is the quintessential Canadian folk artist who has overcome personal physical limitations and all kinds of challenges in her life.– Ethan Miller, Miller & Miller Auctions

“I was pregnant at the time and I was like, ‘Well, I’m having a boy and we can always hang this in his bedroom’, so that’s how we ended up with the little black truck.”

Turns out Demas picked well, according to Ethan Miller, managing director and auctioneer at Miller & Miller Auctions in New Hamburg, Ont., who said the painting is rare and a striking example of Lewis’ work.

“They just happened to pick the best of nine,” he said. “This is a very limited production example.”

Painting by Lewis, letters up for auction May 14

The painting will go up for auction on May 14, along with two handwritten letters from Lewis to Kinnear which are believed to be the first examples of the late artists’ correspondence to hit the market.

Many of Kinnear’s paintings still hang on the walls of the Demas’ home in Lucan, Ontario, including this portrait of Irene Demas. (Submitted by Irene Demas)

“Our understanding is that Maud Lewis had very little written communication with anyone. So the gentleman she corresponded with in this case, he was a cheerleader and believed in her,” Miller said.

He said Lewis had a cult following in the art world, where she was celebrated for her resilience and joy, despite living in a one-room house in abject poverty while suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. .

“Maud Lewis is the quintessential Canadian folk artist who overcame personal physical limitations and all kinds of challenges in her life. She followed her passion and worked hard at it.”

He said because of his story and the 2017 film was inspired by itLewis’s star has increased dramatically in value even in recent years.

“The market has gone crazy. It’s highly unusual to see a category double or triple in value, and paintings by Maud Lewis over the last five or even three years have easily doubled.”

Lewis’ works have sold at auction in the past for up to $65,000.

Demas said she couldn’t remember how many grilled cheese sandwiches it took to get the painting.

“I have no idea, but that’s all John ever ate, it was a grilled cheese sandwich every day.”