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Saint John auction features three rare, early Maud Lewis paintings

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Maud Lewis is one the biggest figures in Maritime art history and has occupied an ongoing exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia since 1998. However, when she started, the Nova Scotia artist was an unknown with just a brush, canvas, and curiosity about the world in front of her.

“She’s been this presence for a number of decades in our popular imagination and it keeps growing and growing,” said Sarah Jones, art historian and curator of Jones Auction House in Saint John, N.B. “People are drawn to it on a visceral, popular level. There’s so much focus on her being an untrained artist, but that’s a superficial distinction.

“Art historians are looking at her work and seeing that that distinction doesn’t matter. It matters what you say with your work.”

Jones is highlighting Lewis’s early years as an artist with an auction this month featuring three rare paintings by the famed Nova Scotian from the late 1940s.

“They came from a private collector in New York and they were probably purchased in the early 1950s,” Jones said. “They didn’t know who this artist was and they reached out to us to bring it to the market place.

“Most of the Maud Lewis paintings we’ve dealt with are from the 1960s. She developed her reputation then. The material Lewis painted on is basically cardboard so it’s so easy for these works to deteriorate. These ones are rare.”

Three Maud Lewis paintings are up for auction in Saint John, N.B. (Courtesy: Sarah Jones)Jones, who conducted her graduate work on Lewis, said the iconic artist became well-known during the 1960s, so these 1940s pieces have an additional significance since they come from a more obscure period in her career.

“The pieces do look a little more different,” Jones said. “She had severe arthritis, so in the 1960s her movement was restricted and her paintings had less detail. These early works are very detailed and they include elements that phased out of her regular repertoire.”

Jones, who opened the Jones Auction House with her brother Caleb in the fall of 2022, is no stranger to Maud Lewis paintings. She has auctioned off several pieces in the last year, including some that sold for $38,500 each.

“That was the highest price we fetched,” she said. “We hope to break that record (with these paintings). We anticipate high demand.”

The auction, which will be held from Nov. 20 to Dec. 3, will also feature works by Group of Seven artists A.Y. Jackson and A.J. Casson.

Jones said Lewis’s work is so enduring in the Maritimes because of how she transformed what she saw in the world into something unique on the canvas.

“She read newspapers and magazines and she was very engaged with what was happening in the world and responding to that stimuli in an incredibly thoughtful way,” Jones said. “There’s a richness and depth to her that makes it worthwhile.

“It’s not just tourist kitsch, it’s a very thoughtful production of unique and original artwork that’s compelling.”

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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