The Oxfordshire vendor believed they had been inherited from his grandfather who was born in Canada but came to England to work in the diplomatic service.
The four pictures were signed for the Canadian folk artist Maud Kathleen Lewis (1903-70) and were offered for sale with undercooked guides of just £100-200 each. They did rather better at this auction in Banbury on May 1, bringing prices of between £7400 (for a woodland logging scene) and £10,000 (a late summer landscape).
The bidding was largely fought out between an internet buyer and a phone bidder, with two of the four works purchased by Canadian buyers.
Living in poverty
Paintings by Lewis come with an extraordinary story. Famously she lived most of her life in relative poverty in a one-room house in Marshalltown on Highway No 1 in Nova Scotia.
Stricken by arthritis, she began her artistic career by peddling hand-drawn and painted Christmas cards door-to-door for five cents each before expanding her range to include small paintings, typically under 12in (30cm) across, worked on wallboard with Tinsel oil paints. She never mixed colours.
From the 1940s into the 1960s these cheerful scenes of Cape Island boats, horses pulling a sleighs and coastal landscapes were sold on the tourist trail for $2-3 apiece.
Only in the last years of her life did she achieve national recognition and begin to sell her pictures for up to $10.
Her story and works became popular after her death (the Richard Nixon administration acquired examples for the White House) and prices rose accordingly.
Sales of Canadian art will often feature examples priced in the £5000-12,000 range, with the auction record thought to be Portrait of Eddie Barnes and Ed Murphy, Lobster Fishermen, sold on eBay in 2017 for Can$45,000 (£26,160).