Lewis Page 1

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous Canadian original was Maud Lewis, from a rural town in Nova Scotia, here holding one of her trademark "primitive art" panels for which she became famous in later life.

She transcended a crippled hand and worn out body to infuse every panel she painted with a cheery atmosphere that belied her poverty bedeviled life.

One of those rare people that just has to paint, she applied her trademark birds, flowers, and animals to the doors, walls, and windows of her house.

Maud Lewis, Marshalltown, Nova Scotia c 1960

Great Canadian Heritage Tragedy - The story of Maud Lewis has been the sad lot of many Canadian artists, down through time, even able-bodied ones. No one wants to buy their art unless a dealer or curator with a famous gallery, and powerful connections, takes a shine to them and assures his/her rich clients that this is a "great investment." Or unless they nurture a special relationship with a powerful bureaucrat who buys for a major museum. That is how the Group of Seven rose above the hue and cry of many equal or better artists. But then it was too late in their lives even for them to benefit financially from their talents. (We can recall hearing a loud AY Jackson lamenting this very point, in his final days, in the early 70s, as he sadly haunted the galleries of the McMichael Museum, in Kleinburg, Ontario.)

It is a truism, in the Canadian art world, that only dealers and auctioneers become wealthy from art by simply taking larger percentages and increasing premiums for simply selling other people's artwork... over and over...

Maud Lewis - 1903-1970 - 1

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Maud Lewis - One of Canada's leading "primitive" or "naif" artists was Maud Lewis.

Her simple, yet joyfully playful canvases make you smile. No airs, or pretense of any kind in her art. Just the joy of the inner person expressing herself with the playful exuberance of childhood motifs and expression. Who would have guessed that these gay scenes came from a person whose inner and outer life was starved of all those things that most other people take for granted to give them happiness?

But she struck a cord with many urban dwellers who yearn for the simple life that her whimsical art portrays. Ah, they surmise, if only my life were as wonderfully simple like Maud Lewis's obviously must be!

Maud Lewis was born in 1903 in South Ohio, Nova Scotia, where her father was a harness maker. Her schooling stopped at grade three and to make ends meet she often painted cards with her mother for sale locally. She was often alone as a child and young woman. She was small, and had almost no chin; suitors were few in her life.

She met her husband by answering a notice for a "live-in" at the local store. At the age of 35 (1938) she married Everett Lewis, a fish peddler and moved into his tiny house in Marshalltown, NS. For the next thirty years she lived in his 12 by 16 cabin, with a small sleeping loft. But there was no indoor plumbing, no electricity, and for years not even a radio to bring the outside world in to her. Heat came from a wood-burning stove.

Maud painted pictures on any pieces of wood she could scrounge, and on stones, and tins, and scallops. She used house paint, boat paint, cheap craft paint and any brushes she could find. Hair from the shedding bristles stick to many of her works. Then she would sit shyly in the car while Everett went door to door to try to make a sale. When he sold fish, he tried to sell her cards as well. She won "CBC fame" in her lifetime, but it was never enough to afford a better house or the finer things in life.

Clearly Maud's art was her way of "escaping" into a better world than fate had dealt her. As an adult she rarely left the house, painting by her window all day. Later she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis which restricted her movement. Her health failed badly as she aged especially after she fell and broke her hip. She died in 1970 at 67.

Her husband died in a fight with a burglar in 1979.

Genuine Works by Maud Lewis:
These, and the pictures above, are considered genuine - and typical - works by Maud Lewis, even though the signature varies.

Beware: But with her growing popularity, the prices for Maud Lewises are going up; so is the attention of forgers eager to capitalize on an artist that looks like it's easy to fake.

You pick the fake!!!!!

One of these two whimsical oxen teams was withdrawn by a Canadian auction house after first offering it for sale as a genuine Maud Lewis. Can you guess which one? Would you have paid top dollar for either one? Can you tell what about the painting tipped them off to the fake?

The paintings below are two more lots that were withdrawn from the auction and posted with an unusual announcement:In the opinion of experts at our gallery this painting is not by Maud Lewis and therefore have withdrawn the lot from the sale.

Can you figure out what tipped them off? Would you have paid Maud Lewis prices for both these "signed" Maud Lewises?

The fake is on the right... Is the one on the right just too lacking in the gracefully confident brush strokes of the Maud Lewis on the left: on the bodies of the oxen, the tree trunks, the leaves, the bells, the chain links, the faces? Are the bell collars just too roughly done instead of artistically integrated like Maud's? Are the quavering brush strokes due to the uncertainty of the forger in not "getting it right?" Note how all the trademarks have been carefully copied, the white socks and hoof lines, the end of the hook bent the same way. Is the signature a bit too brazen for Maud, begging for attention?

The bird House and the Fish for Sale lots were also withdrawn at the same time. The auction house considered them not to be the work of Maud Lewis. Would you have been caught with these forgeries if you encountered them at an out-of-the-way auction?

Fakes Galore!!!

Recently, in one Ontario rural auction, a "Maud Lewis" was suddenly offered among the furniture and house wares. It caused a buzz of interest and comment. Many skeptics refused to bid, but the price for a simple picture of oxen went close to two thousand dollars. Someone took a chance rather than let a windfall pass him by.

At the following auction some weeks later, miraculously, the same auction offered another "Maud Lewis"! The sudden "flood" of Maud Lewis, at an auction that had never had one before, caused more than a little comment. "The owner," said the auctioneer, "decided to let another one go from their private collection. The last one resold in Quebec already for over $3,000 so why not?"

Again someone didn't want to let an opportunity go by and paid $2,000 for it, in spite of the highly unusual venue for a work by a major Canadian painter. Why, you might well ask, wouldn't the owner offer it at a downtown Toronto auction, where the craving for Maud Lewis is greater than on a rural farm with few bidders?

At the following auction...... guess what?

And then a few weeks later the "Maud Lewis" right showed up at the same auction. Compare it with the ones up top.

Bad Call? Are they really fakes? Or are they really Maud Lewises all along? Artists are forever experimenting, trying to escape the sameness of their mode of expression in subject matter and style.

It is possible that the auction house would rather pass up a sale on a "real" Maud Lewis, than chance losing its good name, and becoming known as a place where you can easily "fence" stolen or bogus art to customers who trust the auction house to take some responsibility for the "integrity" of its listings? Will a later "expert" declare one, or all of these, "genuine" works by her?

It's clear that the artist who painted this one, is the same one who painted the "Lewis" Hodgins rejected as a fake up top.

Pity! And such a nice clean piece of unmarked masonite on the back. It's as if Maud painted it last week, and hasn't been dead for 35 years, like we were led to believe.

This one sold for a $1,600 hammer price. We'll see more at this auction.

Is that you Maud?
Probably a Genuine Maud Lewis??? Rejected as Fake by Hodgins Art Auctioneers of Calgary, AB
Appeared at the same Ontario auctioneer who "re fenced" the three Maud Lewis's rejected by Hodgins of Calgary, AB Appeared at another Toronto art auctioneer...
If the first is really by Maud Lewis, the second considered a fake by one auctioneer's experts, the third sold by a crooked auctioneer, and the fourth looks like these last two - compare the delicate rendering of tree leaves and flowers of the first, compared to the rough handling in the others - would you pay three to four thousand for any of them, and sleep easy at night? What about the quick and dirty necklaces around the bells? C'mon, now, you know only a man would do that, right?
Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. - 1996, 1999, 2005