Painting Swapped for Sandwich Sells for 'Surreal' Price

Maud Lewis work fetches $272K at auction, 10 times higher than expected
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2022 10:32 AM CDT
Updated May 21, 2022 6:30 AM CDT
They Got This Painting for a Grilled Cheese Sandwich
This painting by the late Maud Lewis of Canada sold for $272,000.   (Miller & Miller Auctions)

(Newser) Update: A painting bartered for a grilled cheese sandwich almost half a century ago has sold for enough money to buy a restaurant. "Black Truck" by renowned Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis sold at auction for $272,000, 10 times the assessed value and a record for a work by Lewis, whose work remained obscure until decades after her death in 1970, the Guardian reports. Former restaurant owner Irene Demas tells the London Free Press it was "surreal" to see the painting, which was in her son's childhood bedroom for many years, sell for such a high price after a bidding war. Letters between Lewis and John Kinnear, a fellow artist who supplied the restaurant with paintings in return for sandwiches, sold separately for $54,500. Our original story from May 8 follows:

A painting up for auction by a renowned Canadian artist has an unusual back story: It was once swapped for a grilled cheese sandwich. The work by the late Maud Lewis of Nova Scotia is expected to fetch about $30,000 this month at Miller & Miller Auctions, reports the Guardian. The newspaper and the CBC explain the tale: The painting is currently owned by Irene and Tony Demas, who used to run a small restaurant in Ontario in the 1970s. One of the regulars was another artist named John Kinnear, who would barter for grilled cheese sandwiches with works of art.

One day, Kinnear brought them a selection of paintings by Lewis, whose work he had discovered in the 1960s. Back then, she was selling her paintings by the side of the road for as little as $10. "I just sort of stood back because it was very, very different from anything I had ever seen before," Irene Demas recalls to the CBC. "At first I thought: 'Is this some kind of joke they're playing on me? Did a child paint these? These are so primitive and childlike.'" She and her husband picked one of a black truck because she was about to have a baby boy.

"It just so happens they chose the best of the nine," says Ethan Miller, chief executive officer and auctioneer at Miller & Miller. "It's a very limited production example." The reputation of Lewis, who lived most of her life in poverty, has continued to grow over the decades. She was even the subject of a 2017 movie. “It’s just too bad she didn’t live long enough to really reap the benefits of her art,” says Demas of Lewis, who died in 1970 at age 69. (Read more uplifting news stories.)

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