Published 2nd September 2003
When fine art valuer and auctioneer Daniel Goddard was commissioned to help deal with the estate of the late Plymouth artist Robert Lenkiewicz, little did he anticipate the scale of the task ahead.
Daniel, a director of Bearne's (now Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood), the Exeter based fine art auctioneers and valuers, discovered that cataloguing and researching the prolific output of paintings by Lenkiewicz was to become and exceptional opportunity to not only learn about a skilled artist, but also touch the world of one of life's truly interesting characters.
For West Country art lovers, there is a marvellous opportunity to see over 150 paintings and drawings from the studio of the late Robert Lenkiewicz when they go on view at Bearne's in Exeter from 4th–6th September prior to Sotheby's sale at Olympia in London on Thursday 18th September.
Robert Lenkiewicz died suddenly on 5 August last year. Daniel said "On the morning after his death I knew little about Lenkiewicz's life. That changed when Bearne's received instructions from Peter Walmsley, executor of his estate from Boyce Hatton solicitors of Torquay, to provide our expertise and assistance in helping to bring together his paintings and works of art.
"Due to the frenetic nature of his life and his prolific output as an artist, untangling the web surrounding Robert Lenkiewicz became a fascinating and intricate project.
"The immediate task was to secure the Lenkiewicz pictures and chattels. This involved itemising and recording his many works, and then moving a large number to secure storage.
"Once an element of order had been established, we could begin the probate valuation work. We carefully catalogued, valued and photographed hundreds of paintings and an eclectic variety of works of art and antiquities."
Daniel explained that the artist's practice of working on different projects simultaneously in various studios, largely around Plymouth's Barbican, meant that he visited several different locations. Each time he never quite knew what to expect, and Lenkiewicz didn't fail to surprise or even shock on occasions.
Continued Daniel: "The now legendary relationship between Lenkiewicz's and Diogenes and his fascination with themes like Death and Sexual Behaviour went some way to explain the various unusual artefacts which have subsequently attracted considerable public interest.
"As more paintings and studios came to light, chronology, themes and personalities began to fall into place. I was able to identify models and sitters, and relate them to projects such as Orgasm, Suicide and Education."
Daniel said that now the difficult decision has been made by the executor and the Lenkiewicz Foundation to sell over 150 works, he understands the mixed feelings admirers of Lenkiewicz and many Plymothians have about the remaining collection and its future.
Peter Walmsley, executor of his estate from Boyce Hatton solicitors of Torquay, agrees with this analysis and said: "It is sad to see a studio collection depleted in this way. However, the sale does offer an opportunity to save the remainder of the collection. Many people have a vision for the reputation of Robert Lenkiewicz, but until the funds and organisation are put in place, how that is safeguarded remains uncertain."
September's sale will be the first time a major auction of work by Robert Lenkiewicz has taken place. Daniel said odd pictures and small groups of work have sold extremely well in various auction rooms in the West Country. Since his death, however, there had been an element of uncertainty and caution about his worth and importance in the context of modern British painting.
Said Daniel: "I believe the best opportunity to raise the profile of Robert Lenkiewicz's work comes from holding this sale in London. Bearne's and Sotheby's have the experience and expertise to promote national and international interest and, in the long term, this should help to secure his legacy here."
Daniel said there were many wonderful images among the group catalogued for sale. As for his favourites, he said: "I admire a thought-provoking and sensitive portrait of Kevin Gasson from the project Mental Handicap, and there is a marvellously engaging portrait study of Jack the Burglar seated and wearing a beautiful checked shirt.
"On a smaller scale is an amusing sketch, entitled: "Come in, I can't be threatened by shadows in the dark" depicts a queue of naked girls filing under the bedclothes of a prostrate and largely hidden figure.
"There are of course many beautiful paintings of women, none more so than two heart searching portraits of Leyla and – of the more challenging work – two studies from The Death and the Maiden project show ghostly copulating figures against a stark black ground.
"Plymouth, and the Barbican in particular, will be a different place for the passing of Robert Lenkiewicz."