Robert Lenkiewicz—one of the great eccentrics of our time

 

Lenkiewicz picFound, a page torn from a copy of the Bookdealer dated 13th November 2003 previewing the forthcoming sale at Sotheby’s of the collection formed by the artist and book collector Robert Lenkiewicz.

Because of his reclusiveness, little was known about Lenkiewicz before he died in 2002 aged just 60. A media frenzy then broke out. There are so few genuine eccentrics in the art world that the press can hardly afford to ignore such a prime example as Lenkiewicz. Here is a passage from the preview:

‘Here we have a man who faked his own death some years before he died …and lived for a few days in hiding at the Cornish home of one of his patrons, the Earl of St Germans. He was notorious for befriending and patronising vagrants and tramps, in particular one Edwin McKenzie, who lived in a concrete tube on a rubbish dump and preferred to be known as Diogenes. Since Diogenes’ death in the 1980s the whereabouts of his bodily bits were a mystery, until his embalmed remains were discovered in a secret drawer in a bookcase at Lenkiewicz’s Barbican library. ‘

‘If you remain unimpressed there were other discoveries including what was left of the condemned 16th –century witch, Ursula Kemp. Her skeletal remains, which had been nailed to the coffin, are believed to have been disinterred in Victorian times. This find nicely compliments his great book collection, illustrating as it does Lenkiewicz’s obsessive curiosity with life and death’. Continue reading

An artist among the Charing Cross Road bookshops

IMG_3272Found in the art instruction magazine The Artist (London, November 1934) an interview with the artist and art therapist Adrian Hill about his recent oil painting ‘In Charing Cross Road.’ Here are a few extracts -most of Hill’s talk is about  technique, but there are some insights on the choice of subject:

… there were some who questioned the impulse behind the work, and wondered whether the scene was worth the skill and discernment that the artist had brought to the task

I admit that I shared a little of this feeling. Charing Cross Road is a central and important thoroughfare, but it must rank in the C3 class amongst London highways. Indeed, there is so little of the beautiful or the picturesque about the neighbourhood that I asked Adrian Hill if the idea of sitting down to paint it came to him suddenly, or if he had deliberately hunted for such a subject.

“No, I wasn’t looking for it,” he said. “It came to me. It was a gift from the London traffic. I was waiting to cross the road when I suddenly found it in front of me, complete in design and detail, asking to be painted.”

“As far as size is concerned, did you see it as a 24″by 20″?”

“No, I thought at first of making it bigger – about 40″ by 30″ – but it was an experiment in the ay of subject, and I decided to go modest. If ever I do a similar scene, I shan’t hesitate to paint it on a grander scale!”

“You had no misgivings about tackling it inside the studio?”

“None at all. I believe I should have painted it mush less spontaneously and confidently if I had had the subject in front of me. The details would have been so insistent that I should have been led into making a still life study of books instead of an impression of a bookshop, which was what I was after.”

“But I suppose you had to use a model for the books?” Continue reading

IMG_1028-2

An 18th Century joke

Found – a scrapbook of press-cuttings mostly from the Irish newspaper the Cork Gazette. This cutting entitled Bon Mot dates from about 1789. Most cuttings are about oddities, strange wagers (can a walking man cover 20 miles faster than a walking horse?) horrible executions, daring feats, obituaries, a letter from Dean Swift, marriages of royals etc., The following is a genuine 18th Century joke. If they had stand up comedians then this would presumably have them ROTFL.

An eminent painter, conversing with a gentleman upon the subject of his profession, very judiciously observes, that the air, the character of a person, was as essential as the face to constitute a just likeness: – that a person, so situated as only to have his face discerned, might not be known, even by his intimate acquaintance, for want of the character which his air would contribute. “ For instance”, says he “a man standing in the pillory.” – “Very true,” interrupted the gentleman “a man in that situation would certainly be without character.”

420369

Mendel, A Story of Youth (Mark Gertler)

Found - a rare 1916 first edition of Mendel, A Story of Youth by Gilbert Cannan. The novel is a roman a clef about the artist Mark Gertler and has much on his disastrous affair with Bloomsbury Goddess Dora Carrington. The verse dedication is to her:

To D.C.

Shall tears be shed because the blossoms fall,
Because the cloudy cherry slips away,
And leaves its branches in a leafy thrall
Till ruddy fruits do hang upon the spray 
Shall tears be shed because the youthful bloom

And all th'excess of early life must fade
For larger wealth of joy in smaller room
To dwell contained in love of man and maid?
Nay, rather leap, O heart, to see fulfilled
In certain joy th'uncertain promised glee,
To have so many mountain torrents spilled
For one fair river moving to the sea.

Gilbert Cannan entertained Mark Gertler, Katherine Mansfield and D H Lawrence among others to a famous 1914 Christmas party at Cholesbury Mill in Buckinghamshire and between 1914 and 1916 Gertler was a frequent visitor. Gertler used Cannan’s shed as a studio and his painting of Gilbert Cannan at his Mill now hangs in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (for which much thanks).

Between 1914-15 Gertler pursued a frustrating love affair at Cannan's  Mill and elsewhere with Dora Carrington, who eventually left him to live with Lytton Strachey. Their relationship is the subject of the 1995 film Carrington*. After Strachey’s death in 1932 Carrington committed suicide.

*Rufus Sewell played a fiery Mark Gertler in the movie. Below is a sample from Christopher Hampton's script - Gertler is very annoyed that Carrington is in love with Strachey:

Mark Gertler: Haven't you any self-respect? 
Dora Carrington: Not much. 
Mark Gertler: But he's a disgusting pervert! 
Dora Carrington: You always have to put up with something.
IMG_0102

Laughton Osborn

Found- a rare anonymous work by Laughton Osborn, an almost completely forgotten writer and one time friend of Poe - A Handbook of Young Artists and Amateurs in Oil Painting (Wiley and Putnam New York 1845.) The author is given as 'An American Artist' and the book demonstrates  a very thorough technical knowledge of the subject, particularly the making and mixing of colours. Very much a writer manqué, his entry in the American Dictionary of Biography ends on this pathetic note: 'His plays were obviously for the library, and not for the footlights, and a search of dramatic records fails disclose any mention of their production in New York or elsewhere.' An online search some 80 years later shows no mention of any performances or reviews of his plays but brings up one modern critic (David S Reynolds) writing that his plays '…have been  deservedly ignored because they sheepishly attempt to duplicate both the  the form and content of Shakespeare's plays.' As a friend (and correspondent) of the 'divine Edgar', surely the greatest of all American writers, he may be worthy of greater note. Poe writes about him fulsomely in The Literati of New York (1850) which is available at Wikisource. The shorter Allibone has this: 'Novelist. Author Confessions of a Poet, Sixty Years of the Life of Jeremy Levis,etc. A writer of some power, whose works have been criticised as of questionable morality.'

Here is his entry in the American Dictionary of Biography:

Continue reading

Jot101Sparkslandscapepic614

Artists as foreign spies

It is a fact that many signposts were temporarily removed, especially in rural areas, during the Second World War, and that countrymen were advised to report sightings of suspicious foreign looking and foreign sounding individuals in their district. What is not generally known, I suspect, is that an artist plying his or her trade as a landscape painter could have come under the gaze of local busybodies, including members of the Home Guard, who may have reported them to the authorities.

Continue reading

Jot-101-constable-Spedding-home-1

Constable and the Spedding family—-the missing pieces of the jigsaw

Sent in by a regular from Hertfordshire - Robin Healey.

John Constable -- The Spedding Home

Less than five minutes into an episode of the recently aired Fake or Fortune series I pricked up my ears. Fiona Bruce and her art sleuths were discussing the provenance of a putative Constable painting of Yarmouth Harbour when they pronounced the name of a former owner, Jane Spedding.

That rang a very loud bell with me. You see, about 25 years ago I bought a rather battered dissected map of England and Wales, dating to around 1811, from an eccentric old dealer in the Pimlico Road. It was priced at just only £2, and I assumed that its cheapness reflected the fact that it, like many of these early jigsaw puzzles, had many pieces missing. At home I examined it further and discovered that the handwriting in pencil on the bare wood on the reverse of the lid confirmed my suspicions. There were, according to the writer, six pieces missing---‘ Anglesea, Flintshire and Radnor, Surrey, Middlesex and Isle of Wight ’. But there was more information. The writer had appended two names and two addresses: ‘Margaret and Jane Spedding 23, Norfolk Street, London & Hampstead Heath, near London, Middlesex, England’.

Continue reading