Published: May 24, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Miller & Miller
NEW HAMBURG, ONTARIO, CANADA – “We dream of situations such as this,” Ethan Miller said. “With that Maud Lewis, it was a classic case of a perfect storm with all the variables in place.”
Miller was referring to the top lot in Miller & Miller’s May 14 Canadiana & Decorative Arts auction, where a rare late-career painting titled “Black Truck” by Maud Lewis (1901-1970), who is often referred to as Canada’s “Grandma Moses,” sold for $320,031. The price established a new world auction record for the artist and was sold alongside a collection of three rare letters written by Lewis to artist and de facto agent John Kinnear, which brought $64,007. Both sold to buyers in Canada.
Interesting back stories accompany each lot as well. The painting, which features a rare subject for an artist who repeated imagery, was sold by the estate of London, Ontario, restauranteurs, Irene and Tony Demas, whose restaurant was frequented by Kinnear and his wife. One day, Kinnear, who apparently only ordered grilled cheese sandwiches, asked if the Demas’ would trade “Black Truck” for a few grilled cheese lunches. The painting features a rare subject for Lewis, who repeated subjects over and over during her lifetime. A few years later, Kinnear drew a charcoal bust of Tony Demas and gave it to him on his birthday, as well as three letters that Lewis had written to Kinnear between 1966 and 1967.“There was international interest in the letters,” Miller said, but he noted that they were considered national treasures that would have required permission to leave the country.
The buyer of “Black Truck” was, in Miller’s words, “an astute art collector” new to Miller & Miller who previously “knew nothing about [Maud] Lewis.” The underbidder for “Black Truck” was the successful winner of the letters.
The sale featured a second work by Lewis that was consigned by a different seller. “Oxen Pulling Logs” achieved $68,578, a price high enough to rank the painting as the second highest lot in the sale and one Miller attributed directly to its being sold alongside “Black Truck.” It is also staying in Canada.
The 407-lot sale, which was more than 97 percent sold, totaled in excess of $1.29 million and saw numerous highlights.
Miller & Miller continued its streak of strong prices for works by Canadian artists with the $7,773 achieved for Joseph Swift’s (1832-1889) watercolor and pencil on paper drawing of “Princess Louisa.” According to Miller, “As far as Canada goes, it doesn’t get much better in livestock artwork,” noting that Swift was one of the best Nineteenth Century livestock artists. It found a new home with a Canadian buyer.
Of interest exclusively to bidders from the United States was a circa 1824 powder horn made and signed by John Tansel (1800-1872) of Scott County, Ky., which exceeded expectations and brought $17,373.
If Miller & Miller are well used to selling works by Canadian artists, a new subject for the firm were a collection of mechanical erotic bronzes by Franz Xavier Bergman (Austrian American, 1861-1936) that were from a single seller. All nine of those in the sale sold, mostly to buyers in the United States, for prices ranging from $2,052 for an Egyptian Queen to $7,298 for a seated Buddha.
Miller & Miller will sell watches and jewelry on June 11 and Petroliana, railroadiana and advertisting from the Joe Byway collection on June 18. The next Canadiana and decorative arts sale will take place in October, to be announced at a future time.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house and have been converted into US dollars.
For more information, 519-662-4800 or www.millerandmillerauctions.com.
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