Couple swapped a sandwich for a painting set to now fetch over £20,000
8th May 2022

The £22,000 cheese toastie! Cafe owners who traded grilled sandwiches for a painting by folk artist Maud Lewis in the 70s are set for a windfall as the now valuable work goes to auction

  • Canadian couple swapped a sandwich for a painting by folk artist Maud Lewis after buying it from Brit John Kinnear, who was a regular at their Ontario cafe
  • Irene Demas and her husband Tony have put painting of a black truck up for sale
  • Auctioneers believe the 50-year-old artwork will fetch more than £20,000 
  • Maud Lewis died in 1970 at the age of 67 never reaping the rewards of her work 

A 50-year-old painting by an acclaimed Canadian folk artist that was given in exchange for a grilled cheese sandwich could fetch over £20,000 at auction.

Irene Demas and her husband Tony would trade dishes at their restaurant in Ontario for the work of talented individuals including bakers, craftspeople, florists and artisans throughout the 1970s.

British couple John Kinnear and his wife Audrey began regularly having lunch at the eatery, after striking a deal with Irene and Tony, that they would see them exchange food fort paintings by John and his friends.

The work by Lewis was among those Irene picked out and, nearly five decades later, it is expected to fetch over C$35,000 (£22,000) at auction.

A painting of a black truck by acclaimed Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis (pictured) is expected to fetch over $35,000 Canadian dollars at auction – it was gifted to Irene and Tony Demas in exchange for grilled cheese sandwiches at their restaurant in London, Ontario in the 70s

Toastie windfall: Irene Demas and husband Tony (pictured) were given the painting by British man John Kinnear, who was a regular at their cafe

Irene admits that she would try to persuade John Kinnear to try other dishes and daily specials but he refused because he loved the grilled cheese sandwich.

She claims that in the 1970s everyone would support each other by sharing their talents within the local community.

The restaurateur revealed that she had around six pieces to choose from the day that she spotted the now valuable painting and had thought some were created by a child because of the ‘bright colours and simple content’.

Irene told The Times that John felt sorry for Maud, who he met in the province of Nova Scotia.

Maud Lewis (pictured) has gained a cult following her for her paintings of rural Nova Scotia and the one-room house she shared with husband Everett

He told her that the painter is ‘so poor she didn’t have the right things to paint on’, having to use scraps of woods and leftover paint from the fishermen’s boasts. 

At the time, Irene was pregnant and decided on the truck painting instead of an animal because she thought it could hang in her son’s bedroom. 

Maud Lewis developed rheumatoid arthritis before her death in 1970 at the age of 67, however her artwork of rural Nova Scotia and the one-room house she shared with husband Everett have continuously grown in fame throughout the years.

‘It’s just too bad she didn’t live long enough to really reap the benefits of her art,’ Irene said. 

Irene and Tony were encouraged by their children to sell the artwork alongside letters between John Kinnear and Maud Lewis too fund travels. 

Irene (pictured) said she and husband Tony were advised to sell the artwork by their children who think they should use the money made to go travelling 

Irene added: ‘My husband is 90 and I don’t think I have another 50 years to hang on to it.’

The painting and two letters will be auctioned on May 14, with previous works by Maud selling for up to $65,000.

Ethan Miller who is chief executive officer and auctioneer at Miller & Miller Auctions in New Hamburg, told CBC that the truck painting is a rare example of Maud’s work.

Ethan said: ‘Maud Lewis is the quintessential Canadian folk artist who has overcome personal physical limitations and all kinds of challenges in her life. She followed her passion and worked hard at it.’ 

Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke brought attention to the poverty-stricken artist in 2016 with the biopic Maudie. 

‘The market has gone wild. It’s very unusual to see a category double and triple in value, and Maud Lewis paintings within the last five or even three years have doubled easily,’ Ethan added.

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