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Rare Maud Lewis painting up for sale at Calgary’s Masters Gallery

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In 2017, an original painting by Maud Lewis was unearthed at a thrift store in New Hamburg, Ont.

Fished out of a donation bin, the undated piece — titled Portrait of Eddie Barnes and Ed Murphy, Lobster Fishermen, Bay View, N.S. — was later sold at a charity auction for $45,000 to an unnamed Calgary collector.

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It is now up for auction again in Calgary, part of an online auction by Mission-based Masters Gallery. It’s among 70 pieces of Canadian artwork up for grabs in what is the first online auction in the gallery’s 47-year history.

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The painting showcases Lewis’ trademark folk-art style, including the bright colours and Nova Scotia backdrop, but is considered rare because it was actually a commissioned piece rather than a “serial image,” where the artist repeated the same image. Most of her pieces that come up for auction or in the market are serial images, says Ryan Green, president of Masters Gallery.

When the painting was first sold at auction in 2017, the $45,000 price was considered nine times the market value for a Maud Lewis painting. In the Masters Gallery auction, the painting is listed as having an estimated value of $35,000 to $45,000.

“That’s the painting that really ignited the Maud Lewis market in 2017,” Green says. “It’s an important painting for Maud Lewis’ work but also for Maud Lewis’ market. So I think it’s exciting that it has re-emerged in auction once again almost a decade later.”

Maud Lewis
The Maud Lewis painting titled, Portrait of Eddie Barnes and Ed Murphy, Lobster Fishermen, Bay View, N.S. was photographed at Masters Gallery in Calgary on Friday, December 8, 2023. Gavin Young/Postmedia

The thrift-store find coincided with a biopic about the artist that came out a month later. Aisling Walsh’s Maudie, starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, chronicled the folk-artist’s impoverished life outside of Digby, N.S., where she sold paintings for a couple dollars apiece out of her house. She died in 1970. Green’s gallery has sold some Lewis works before.

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“The honesty and the story, really, is what makes her work special,” says Green. “We’ve sold a few works. This is probably the most important Lewis we have dealt with, by far. We have sold some of the serial images before, like the covered bridge and the cats and the ox. But unique images like this are really rare, which is one of the reasons it did well when it came up before.”

While the Lewis painting may be the star attraction, the auction features pieces from a number of iconic Canadian artists. More than half of the works up for auction are owned by a family in Ontario, Green says.

Other paintings in the auction include Sun Tipped, a 1919 painting by Group of Seven artist Franz (Frank) Johnston. There are three sculptures and a pencil drawing from the late artist Joe Fafard, a 1981 oil painting by Henry George Glyde and three pieces by abstract artist Marion Nicoll, including a water colour from 1959 and two card prints from 1977 and 1978.

Known as one of Alberta’s first abstract painters, she was the first woman instructor at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art. The student-run Marion Nicoll Gallery is located at the Alberta University of the Arts.

The painting with the highest estimated value at the auction is West Coast, First Light, 1986, by 97-year-old British Columbia artist Takao Tanabe. It’s estimated worth is $60,000 to $80,000.

The auction is open until Dec. 17. For more information, visit mastersgalleryltd.com/exhibitions/online-auction/

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