Charles Hanson Column: Paintings found boxed up in home sell for thousands thanks to valuer’s hunch

It’s happened again, writes Charles Hanson. Four items boxed up in a home for decades have sold for £36,000 at auction – and the seller had no idea they were worth anything.

Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 5:00 pm

That’s why I always urge the people of Derbyshire to come and see us. Even if you don’t think it’s worth anything, you just never know.

This time, a house move prompted a call to our valuation team. The vendor had inherited some pieces from her grandfather. He was born in Canada but came to England to work. He eventually became a British citizen and travelled the world, adding to his art collection along the way.

She kept some items but decided to part with four almost childlike paintings. They’d been in the family since the 1950s and passed down through the generations.

Antiques expert Charles Hanson

A member of my team, valuer Jasper Marsh, went along to carry out a free home visit valuation and came across the artwork in a box. Immediately, he had a hunch the paintings might be special.

‘They were either worth nothing or could potentially be good things’, he told me. As the family had a Canadian connection and the subject matter resembled that part of the world, he took a punt with only the signed name ‘Lewis’ to go on. Could they be by renowned Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis?

Jasper started digging for information. He contacted Sotheby’s in Ontario. They put him in touch with a gallery which had exhibited Lewis paintings. The news was good. The four oil on board artworks were indeed by renowned Canadian folk artist Maud Kathleen Lewis. Jasper’s hunch had paid off. And his dedication sparked an international bidding battle.

The paintings went to auction with a modest estimate of £100-£200 each. They sold for a combined total of £36,000 and two of the paintings were purchased by Canadian buyers.

Pictured is a painting by Maud Kathleen Lewis Lot 200 ( Canadian 1903-1970). Figure in a horse drawn sleigh in a wintry landscape - Sold for £9,500. Picture credit: Hansons.

The top-selling Maud Lewis painting, lot 201, a late summer landscape with single boat, sold for £10,000. It was followed by lot 200, a figure in a horse-drawn sleigh in winter, £9,500.

The paintings had been in the family for around 70 years. The seller was chuffed to bits with the auction result and sent a lovely email.

During the research process, it was fascinating to look back on Maud’s life. She is so revered in her home country, her work featured on Canada’s 2020 Christmas postage stamps. She’s inspired several books, plays and films and her work is displayed in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

She lived from 1903-1970 – for the most part in poverty. She made the most of a one-room house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia.

Pictured is a painting by Maud Kathleen Lewis Lot 201 ( Canadian 1903-1970). A late summer landscape with single boat - Sold for £10,000. Picture credit: Hansons.

She was born with birth defects and developed rheumatoid arthritis, which reduced her mobility, especially in her hands. She was introduced to art by her mother, who asked her to make watercolour Christmas cards to sell.

The Maud Lewis paintings were sold at by Hansons on May 1. Entries are invited for the June 24 Derbyshire Fine Art Auction, plus all other general and specialist sales.

Free valuations are available by appointment at Hansons Marquee, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, or you can book a free home visit.

Email [email protected] or call 01283 733988.