Published: October 18, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Miller & Miller Auctions
NEW HAMBURG, ONTARIO, CANADA – On October 8, Miller & Miller Auctions presented its semi-annual Canadiana and Folk art sale, an auction of nearly 350 lots built around the collection of the Honorable Jim Fleming, former Canadian broadcaster and a member of the House of Commons from 1972 to 1984. Fleming’s walking sticks and folk art carvings were prominent, as were more items from the Toronto collection of optometrist, Marty Osler, whose collection the house has been selling for several months. Rounding out important groupings was that of Susan Murray, whose collection the Beaverbrook Art Gallery toured in the United States and Canada in 2007.
But it was 11 works by Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis (1903-1970) that earned the highest prices in the sale. Yes, you read that correctly. All 11 works – sold by different sellers – had the top 10 prices in the sale, as well as the next highest. “She seems to have captured the attention of the market,” Ethan Miller said after the sale, confirming that all but one of them sold to buyers in Canada, with a buyer in the United States taking the least expensive painting.
At the top of the sale at $73,219 was Lewis’ “Winter Sleigh Ride,” a mixed media on beaverboard work that despite it not being a common scene, depicts one of the artist’s favorite childhood memories and is similar to one later used for a series of Canadian postage stamps. The painting had been handled by Livingston Galleries of New York City, and the painting’s period frame retained the gallery label; Miller noted that all of the works by Lewis in the sale had come from primary sources, either purchased directly from Lewis herself or galleries who handled her work.
“Three Black Cats” found a new home for $51,164, nearly four times its high estimate, while “Horse and Buggy” rode out to more than double its high estimate, for $49,031. “Cats” had been acquired directly from Lewis around 1969 by the consignor’s mother, while it is presumed – because of the slightly smaller Masonite board “Horse and Buggy” is painted on – to have been handled by Lewis’ friend John Kinnear and later Gardner Galleries of London, Ontario. Prices for the rest of Lewis’ works decreased from there, down to $11,085, which was realized for “Winter Sleigh Ride with Covered Bridge.” It was painted in watercolor on 4½-by-6½-inch cardstock, which Lewis received from Edith Wallis, the editor of the Digby Courier. One of the smallest of Lewis’ works in the sale was the only one an American bidder was successful in winning away from a Canadian bidder.
An acrylic on paper painting, done in 1998 by Canadian artist Norval Morrisseau (Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek, 1932-2007) titled “Ancestral Visions” topped the price list, behind the Maud Lewis works, when it sold for $8,527, just shy of its low estimate. The work incorporates many elements often used by the artist, who is considered one of the outstanding “Woodland” artists.
Miller & Miller pulled out all the stops promoting Adélard Brousseau’s “Maple Sugar Time,” a monumental mixed media diorama made in Quebec, circa 1930. A YouTube video on the website and an extensive catalog essay conveyed the significance of the work, which was carved at night by the artist, who suffered from an illness that kept him from sleeping. Brousseau gave the piece to a local parish who prayed for him to return to health. The diorama, which was being sold from the Susan Murray collection, brought $7,675.
Another work from the Murray collection that garnered a tall price was a 7-foot totem pole from Manitoulin Island, circa 1940, that brought nearly seven times its high estimate. An untouched surface with great colors doubtlessly helped contribute to its $5,542 result.
Of the works in the Jim Fleming Collection – of which 119 lots were on offer – a carved and painted book-form gumwood box with a drawer, made in Quebec in the late Nineteenth Century, had the highest finish, quadrupling expectations to close at $6,822.
Miller & Miller’s next Canadiana & Folk Art sale is scheduled for February 11.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house and have been converted into US dollars based on the exchange rate on the day of the sale. For additional information, www.millerandmillerauctions.com or 519-662-4800.
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