Published 24th February 2014
In April 2008, in the week after the third and final Lenkiewicz Studio Sale, I had a number of conversations with collectors, picture buyers and reporters who all wanted to talk about the frenzy of buying, the thousands of people who had attended the sale and the impressive prices that were achieved.
One particular picture buyer, who had been in the trade for over 40 years, said that these sorts of sales did not happen any more. 'Back in the day' there were fantastic house sales or artists' studio sales, but not now, this was the sort of sale that doesn't happen any more. But it did happen, and during the course of the Lenkiewicz Studio Sales over three million pounds was spent on Lenkiewicz pictures.
Thousands of people from across the south west, from London, Birmingham and up and down the country, from Europe and overseas, had come to the huge exhibition centre at Westpoint and between them they had devoured the last 500 lot tranche of paintings, watercolours, drawings and artefacts from the Lenkiewicz Studios in Plymouth.
The result was that the conditions of the market on the day of the final sale were driven by a mass of devoted fans of Robert Lenkiewicz and their appetite to buy drove prices up.
Many of the assembled crowd believed they had a personal relationship with Lenkiewicz and they saw this as their last opportunity to acquire a keepsake. There was a frenzy of buying with every lot sold.
Pre-sale estimates, which in hindsight still look realistic and sensible, were blown away and irrelevant. Hundreds of people left with their own piece of Lenkiewicz, some in terms of a memento, others as a treasured artwork, some inclined towards investment.
For many, this was their first experience of a live auction and their first opportunity to buy a work by Lenkiewicz. The energy and excitement of these new buyers created A perfect storm resulting in exceptional prices with highlights like the £100,000 paid for the portrait of Albert Fisher called The Bishop Startled (SF15/155), £85,000 for the masterwork called The Death Bed (SF15/437) and £65,000 for Man Presenting His Entrails (SF15/377).
While these outstanding major works and their hammer prices bear scrutiny today, the perfect storm drove-up the prices for the less important paintings too. Some of these minor works were quickly painted by Lenkiewicz to settle a debt, buy a book or to please an admirer; and there is little doubt that some are 'average' at best. These lesser paintings include what the artist called 'first statements' which are the loose lines and shapes of colour made at a first sitting.
The £3,200 paid for the outline drawing on canvas of a family group (SF15/517) and £15,000 for the loose painting of Greenie (SF15/425) do seem high now and I think would be very difficult to repeat six years on and, in the cold light of day, while the market is not frenzied and energised.
Since 2008, we have regularly sold Lenkiewicz with continued success for the major works. In 2010, we sold The Last Supper for £80,000 and in the same sale a portrait of Lisa Stokes Holding a Mirror for £40,000; and in April of this year there is another opportunity to test the Lenkiewicz market.
The group of over a dozen paintings for sale in the Spring 2014 Fine Art Sale on 29th April 2014 contains excellent examples including a large portrait of Lisa Stokes with the Painter that compares well with his best paintings of women like Lisa Stokes Holding a Mirror mentioned above. This painting is estimated at £20,000-£30,000 which is realistic and reflects the change in the market over the period from the frenzied studio sale to a more level playing field where thre are fewer active collectors under less pressure not to miss an opportunity.
In the same sale, there is a rare landscape (estimated at £6,000-£8,000), which is similar to the iconic Silver Lake (SF15/440) that was withdrawn form the 2008 sale but which I understand would have sold well into five figures. There is also an iconic self-portrait similar to a number we have sold over the last 10 years for prices between £4,000 and £10,000. This one is estimated at £5,000-£7,000.