Paintings that had been boxed up for years in a Banbury home sold for a total of £36,000 - thanks to valuer’s hunch.

Jasper Marsh had a feeling the artworks were something special and put in some detective work.

It turned out the four oils, which had been in the same family for 70 years, were by revered Canadian folk artist Maud Kathleen Lewis.

The paintings, which then went to auction with an estimate of £100 to £200 each, became the subject of an international bidding battle and finally sold for a total of £36,000.

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Maud Lewis (1903-1970) is so highly regarded in Canada that her work, often outdoor scenes inspired by childhood memories, featured on Canada’s Christmas postage stamps.

Born with birth defects, she developed rheumatoid arthritis which reduced her mobility in her hands and spent most of her life in poverty in a one-room house in Nova Scotia.

Her work is on display in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Mr Marsh, of Hanson Holloway’s Ross, said: “My client was moving house and having a sort out. She had no idea the paintings were worth anything. She inherited them from her grandfather. He was born in Canada but came to England to work in the Diplomatic Service.

"When I saw these almost childlike oils, I had a hunch that they were either worth nothing or could potentially be good things.

"As the family had a Canadian connection and the subject matter resembled that part of the world, I took a punt with only the signed name ‘Lewis’ to go on."

Mr Marsh contacted Sotheby's in Ontario who put him in touch with a gallery that had exhibited Maud's work.

He said: "I did quite a bit of spade work.”

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On sale day "the overwhelming majority of the interest" came from Canada and two paintings were bought by Canadian buyers.

Mr Marsh said the intensity of the auction took him by surprise. "My detective work paid off.”

Charles Hanson, owner of Hanson Holloway’s Ross, said the paintings proved to be "classic examples" of Maud's work.

"They capture those Canadian scenes she knew so well. It was an incredible discovery."