Published 16th March 2015
At the end of this month, on Saturday 28th March 2015, we are holding The Lenkiewicz Legacy Sale and this will be a new opportunity to buy from a carefully selected group of paintings and artworks that demonstrate the development, vision, direction and range of Robert Lenkiewicz as the artist.
The aim of The Lenkiewicz Legacy Sale is to raise funds for The Lenkiewicz Foundation, to help them acquire permanent premises on The Barbican in Plymouth and to achieve this the Foundation has decided to include selected major oil paintings from their own small collection. The other major contribution to the sale comes from the collection of Graham Carey, a patron and friend of Lenkiewicz.
The range of painting stretches from early work, like the 1955 Chicken Studies (SF20/95) and the 1956 Stallions Fighting (SF20/094) painted when Lenkiewicz was 15 years old, right through to a 2000 Self Portrait (SF20/26). There is a real dynamic breadth to the 114 lots in this sale.
For variety, the sale includes a group of what we could call Lenkiewicz Promotional Material in the form of exhibition posters, high quality prints, signed editions of The Mary Notebook and studio photographs taken by his friend, the photographer, Dr Philip Stokes. The prints of Lenkiewicz are an insight into a discreet, but seemingly self-driven publicity machine and ego. Self-Portrait at Easel (SF20/28), Self-Portrait Holding Rose (SF20/29) and Self-Portrait Project 10 (SF20/30), each estimated at £200-£300 each, all with Lenkiewicz looking straight out of the image, straight into the eyes of the viewer and in each example Lenkiewicz, its seems, has captured something in terms of expression and meaning.
These speak volumes, as do the numerous other images of Lenkiewicz, not, I think, in a 'look at Me' way, but rather in terms of 'look, I am a Painter and I make paintings' and I think we are constantly being asked 'Do you take these paintings seriously?' This question is also expressed in the Exhibition Poster for The Painter with Women Project (SF20/7) and the Exhibition Poster for the Paintings Painted Blind Project (SF20/10) where Lenkiewicz is again saying 'look, I am a Painter'.
The egotistical 'look at Me' interpretation and the alternative 'look, I am a Painter' relationship, is repeatedly demonstrated in major paintings too. In this sale, the beautiful full-length canvas of The Painter with Esther Dallaway (SF20/34) is a good example as is The Painter with Karen Ciambriello (SF20/49), with Lenkiewicz pictured centre front at his easel, with paintbrush and palette. Is Lenkiewicz asking 'Is this about Me, or is this about a Painter of People?'; make your mind up.
Those familiar with Lenkiewicz will know that there are paintings which are not 'easy' to look at; these are painting that deliberately challenge inhibitions, challenge attitudes and challenge social boundaries and etiquette. The subjects are often much closer to our own experiences, beliefs and lives than we care to think. The Painter as Old Fool (SF20/56) is a raw and sexually charged painting and the fine Study of Reuben Lenkiewicz (SF20/83) is an awkward and provocative image with a dark and lost feel. So too the study of the aged prostitute Dot Harrington (SF20/69) which is tragic and sad, but at the same time, could be on our doorstep or lurking close behind a veil of social respectability.
But it's not all weighty, serious, challenging stuff, at least not on the face of it, and Lenkiewicz often demonstrates, or gives an impression of self-awareness and a sense of humour. For example, the poster for his 1996 Evening With Lenkiewicz (SF20/113) at The Theatre Royal in Plymouth. Is this Lenkiewicz claiming celebratory status or is this just mocking irony? The estimate is £50-£100.
So Lenkiewicz is a figure painter in the traditional sense and it is the human form, the person, the character, that dominates his work. Portraits, or studies, are closely observed. Some portraits are sensitive and engaging like The French Girl (SF20/13) and some are sensitive but also brutally honest, like the Cancer Victim (SF20/73) or the portrait of the school boy Mark Pierce (SF20/59) from the 1980s Local Education Project which makes [tragic] sense in the context of Lenkiewicz claiming that modern education amounted to 'the mass spiritual slaughter of the young'.
Leading the major paintings from the Lenkiewicz Foundation Collection is The Painter with Mary in Newspaper Magi-Fool's Hats (also known as 'Paper Crowns') (SF20/27), which is estimated at £30,000-£50,000. This is the statement painting and culmination of the painter's 1981 Project titled The Painter with Mary: A Study in Obsessional Behaviour. It is a painting well known to devotees of Lenkiewicz and will undoubtedly become the centrepiece of a collection.
Also from The Foundation comes the large 1965 canvas called Mouse with Wool (SF20/87), which is one of the artist's major early works. It took over six years to finish and the artist referred to as a 'turning point'. And of similar iconic status is Diogenes and Belle at Prayer with Chairs (SF20/110), which was painted in 1974. This meticulously composed and executed work is the culmination of the Death and The Maiden Project, which explored the passing of time and the relationship between love and death. All these major works have been recently exhibited in this country and in Germany.
I am regularly asked about "The Lenkiewicz Market". My view is that from 2003 to 2008 there was a 'frenzy' of collecting and buying Lenkiewicz. The supply of paintings and drawings, fresh to the market, which we were able to offer at two big Studio Sales, was an exciting opportunity for thousands of people with a personal interest in Lenkiewicz. This demand spread across the whole of both sales, and world record prices were set for iconic and major paintings, and also many of the lesser works attracted multiple interest and bidding and prices flew away. As a result, I believe some prices achieved at the Westpoint Sales in 2004 and 2008 are in advance of the market now, a market which has calmed down.
So, what we have now is a sale which will establish where Lenkiewicz is in the 21st century. The estimates are realistic and the sale is without doubt a rare opportunity to buy selected and important works by the artist. The sale showcases a fine range of paintings and in many ways maps-out and signposts the career of the artist. Whether you intend to buy or not, we hope that you are able to attend one of the viewing days or talks, on Thursday, 26th March 2015 and Friday, 27th March 2015, or why not be at the sale at 12 noon on Saturday, 28th March 2015?
Fully illustrated catalogues (£10), with details about bidding on the Internet, are available from the auctioneer.
The Lenkiewicz Foundation are presenting talks at Noon on both viewing days on the life and work of Robert Lenkiewicz (1941-2002):-