Six of the finest Robert Lenkiewicz paintings destroyed in fire
SIX of the finest paintings by renowned Plymouth artist Robert Lenkiewicz have been destroyed in a fire, it was revealed today.
They include what one expert says is probably his greatest work, The Burial of John Kynance.
“It’s the equivalent of the loss of Picasso’s Guernica or Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper,” said Francis Mallett, chairman of the Lenkiewicz Foundation.
“It’s tragic, a huge loss.”
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The giant canvas – 6ft 10in by 15ft 10in – completed in 1973, was the largest from his vagrancy series.
The paintings were in a private collection held by the Alper family, one of Lenkiewicz’s benefactors, which was lost when fire swept through buildings on their 40-acre estate in Cambridgeshire on June 13.
The blaze destroyed an 18th-century historic barn and other rooms, used as a wedding and conference venue, at Chilford Hall, Linton.
Two men in their 20s from Suffolk have been charged with arson with intent to endanger life following the fire.
The other paintings lost were Mr Harry’s Club (from the Sexual Behaviour project), The Painter with Mary at Piermasters Restaurant (The Painter with Mary project) and three from Lenkiewicz’s series on education: The Blind Leading The Blind, Study of Dora Russell and Study of Zelda Hill.
The destruction is a blow to the Foundation’s plans of expanding a current show in the Royal William Yard into the first international exhibition of Lenkiewicz’s work, to be held in Berlin next year.
“The Alper family have been wonderful in lending their paintings to be included in public shows, including in Bristol (at the Royal West of England Academy, last year),” said Mr Mallett.
“We were hoping to borrow some of the large works again for the Berlin show, but they are gone forever now. This is so terrible.
“We are very sympathetic towards the Alper family and their loss. Sam Alper was a great supporter and benefactor before he died (in 2002) and his widow, Fiona, has continued to be so.”
The loss is a further blow to the Lenkiewicz Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the artist’s library, paintings and other original pieces and raising awareness of his life, work and ideas.
The charity aims to establish a permanent base in Plymouth, housing works and to be used as a study centre. But the Foundation has been hampered by the complexities of his estate.
When he died in 2002 his estate was initially valued at £6.5 million. But he left huge debts and complicated affairs, which forced the sale of large parts of his collection.
However, between 30 and 40 oil paintings remain, plus many more watercolours and sketch and notebooks, and thousands of books, mainly on art history and philosophy.
Lenkiewicz was shunned by critics and the established art world. He was known for his traditional realistic portrait style but his lifestyle and the subjects of his works were anything but. Lenkiewicz was known for his themes on sexuality, mental handicap and suicide and people on the margins, such as vagrants. His projects often ran to hundreds of works.
He is believed to have had about 12 children from a string of partners.
His work has always been popular with the public, though. The first show of his work in Plymouth for three years attracted 4,000 people in the first two weeks. The exhibition, entitled Human, All Too Human continues at the Mills Bakery, Royal William Yard, until tomorrow