Maud Lewis paintings are fetching big money at auction — and fakers are trying to cash in


The Current23:24Fakers cashing in on recognition of Maud Lewis paintings

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When Halifax gallery proprietor Ian Muncaster just lately appraised a portray attributed to famed Nova Scotia people artist Maud Lewis, it wasn’t the portray itself that raised a crimson flag.

“You might inform that the soiling on it, that any individual had shaved a pencil on their finger and then rubbed [it] in,” stated Muncaster, proprietor of Zwicker’s Art Gallery.

“Old filth would not seem like that,” he informed The Current

Lewis, who died in 1970, loved some recognition in her later years. But her vividly vibrant paintings have gained better worldwide recognition extra just lately, with London’s outstanding Whitechapel Gallery that includes her work alongside Picasso and Andy Warhol final spring. 

As that fame has elevated, so have the costs her work fetches at auction: a portray discovered in a thrift retailer bought for $45,000 in May 2017, a month after the Canadian launch of a film concerning the artist’s life.

Another piece — as soon as traded for a grilled cheese sandwich — was anticipated to fetch $35,000 at auction earlier this 12 months, however bought for 10 instances that quantity at $350,000.

But as worth tags have elevated, so have considerations about forgeries. 

Lewis painted animals and folks in rural scenes with daring colors and easy, blocky shapes. Some artwork specialists informed The Current that her first forger is believed to have been her husband, Everett, who’s alleged to have painted fakes and bought them underneath her title after she died. (Sixteen years after they paid $5,000 for a Maud Lewis portray, a Halifax couple have been devastated final 12 months to study it was probably a pretend.)

Alan Deacon, a retired instructor who lives in Wolfville, purchased his first Lewis portray from the artist herself years in the past. He’s spent greater than 50 years gathering and finding out her paintings, and is now thought-about an professional in the artist’s work. 

He insists her easy model is just not as straightforward to copy as folks may suppose — however he was tight-lipped on how he spots the telltale indicators of a forgery.

“I do not need to go into it a lot. Otherwise, I’m simply giving the fakers precisely what they need, so I’d slightly not say.” 

At Zwicker’s, Muncaster stated about one-third of the purported Lewis paintings he sees are fakes. In that latest case, he contacted the proprietor, defined his considerations, and organized to ship it again.

“Somebody had paid $7,500 for this one and they thought it was an actual cut price,” he stated.

“I do not declare to be an professional, however, , I’ve somewhat extra expertise than the subsequent particular person [and] I would not contact the factor with a bargepole.”

Ian Muncaster, proprietor of Zwicker’s Art Gallery in Halifax, left, appears to be like at some Maud Lewis paintings with Chad Brown, who buys and sells her work. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)
A man sits at a table looking at a book of paintings.
Lewis professional Alan Deacon can inform genuine paintings from fakes, however is tight-lipped concerning the tell-tale indicators. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

Questions about paintings in premier’s workplace

While talking to specialists on background for this story, The Current realized that there are even questions on two Maud Lewis paintings hanging in Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston’s workplace.

The paintings, titled Boat and Sled, are on mortgage to the workplace by means of the Nova Scotia Art Bank Program, an initiative run by Arts Nova Scotia, a provincial authorities company. They have been bought by provincial authorities in 1982. 

The Current alerted Arts Nova Scotia to considerations concerning the paintings, and requested to carry an professional to view them in particular person. (When proven pictures, specialists that The Current spoke to on background stated at least considered one of them was very suspicious.)

Arts Nova Scotia stated the paintings can be authenticated by the group this fall, however declined The Current’s request to be concerned.

A painting of a red sled being pulled by a horse, in a winter scene.
A painting of white boats and seagulls in a harbour.
Sled, above, and Boat, beneath, are listed by Arts Nova Scotia as each being painted by Maud Lewis circa 1969. They are on mortgage to the premier’s workplace, however questions have been raised about whether or not Lewis actually painted them. (Submitted by Arts Nova Scotia)

Lewis was born in 1903. After marrying Everett in 1938, they lived in a small one-room home outdoors Digby, N.S. Despite debilitating rheumatoid arthritis that affected her palms, she painted her vivid scenes on wooden panels, outdated wallpaper and even seaside shells, utilizing leftover home and boat paint. She bought her paintings for just some {dollars} on the facet of the highway by her home, each floor of which she coated with vibrant flowers, birds and butterflies.

Fred Trask knew Maud and Everett Lewis. The Nova Scotia people artist lives in Dartmouth, N.S., and is revered in his personal proper, however his title comes up once more and once more in conversations with specialists round fakes of Lewis’s paintings, allegations of forgery that he denies. 

“I’m not the faker of Maud Lewis,” he informed The Current.

“There can be folks that claims I’ve. Maybe it is one I purchased that was already pretend, that I bought. I’ll admit, perhaps I did run into one which was pretend already,” he stated.

Trask stated he is heard of different forgers working over time, together with Maud’s husband Everett earlier than his loss of life in 1979, and the observe might have been widespread. 

“I believe realist artists have been additionally faking Maud, however they’d in all probability do one, get a big worth and then cease. So it is arduous to fathom out who did what, the place and when,” he stated.

A man sits on a couch, looking at the camera. There are statues and artworks behind him.
Nova Scotia people artist Fred Trask denies allegations that he has cast Lewis paintings. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)
A man stands on a staircase, with paintings lining the wall.
Nova Scotia businessman John Risley owns about 300 works by Lewis. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

John Risley, who previously ran Clearwater Seafoods, owns one of many world’s largest non-public collections of Lewis paintings, and repeatedly loans out a few of his 300 works for public show.

Her paintings grasp alongside the staircase of his Halifax dwelling— so he sees them very first thing in the morning and very last thing at night time — and he informed The Current he enjoys their exuberance and vibrant particulars, like fruit blossoms on timber that should have no.

“She did not let realism get in the best way, proper? It was all the time about creativeness and color and [trying] to make the portray come alive and making it dance in your thoughts,” he stated.

His assortment consists of Christmas playing cards drawn in pen and ink, initially bought by Lewis for 10 cents, and now fetching 1000’s of {dollars}. 

That worth enhance has attracted new patrons to the artwork world, together with Chad Brown in Halifax, who saved up and invested $14,000 in a Lewis portray of oxen and tulips a number of years again.

He informed The Current that at the time he thought it was an enormous quantity of money, however later determined “only for giggles, I’m simply going to submit it and see what I might make off of it.”

“The very subsequent day — bought,” he stated. 

“I assumed, ‘Well, jeez, there is a greater demand than I assumed,’ and then from there, it simply sort of snowballed, one after one other.”

WATCH | A 1965 profile of Maud Lewis at work in her Nova Scotia dwelling:

A 1965 profile of folks artist Maud Lewis at work in her Nova Scotia dwelling

CBC’s biography collection Telescope appears to be like in on people artist Maud Lewis and her husband Everett. Airdate: Nov. 25, 1965.

Brown remembers that first sale made round $10,000 revenue. He used to handle a tavern, however in the previous three years he is made a dwelling shopping for and promoting Lewis paintings, flipping about 55 thus far.

He stated he is very cautious about forgeries, counting on professional authentication and even travelling internationally to view the paintings up shut earlier than he completes a purchase order. He all the time asks the place a vendor bought a portray, and imprecise tales elevate crimson flags. 

But Brown liked that very first Lewis portray a lot that he had hassle letting it go. Filled with regret, he contacted the customer and organized to commerce it for an additional Lewis. 

“I had a lot regret as a result of it was my first one, and it was stunning. And what did I do once I bought it? I resold it once more,” he stated. 

“The market is so sizzling, I stated, ‘I can not justify holding this a lot money up on a wall,'” he stated.


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