Sotheby’s Auction: thoughts and reflections

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    Who went? What did you think? Just seen the prices and im almost sorry i didnt go with my £3000. The estate was hoping for £1mn+. Some went well high – one of the last portraits £28k.

    Main thing I wanted was the oil of the druids? Can anyone help me to find who took this at just over £3000 - I d be happy to add another £500 for them to pass it on.


    brunswick girl

    I was looking into placing some bids and when you delve into the Sothebys catalogue it states that there is a 20% fee and then you add 17.5% Vat. Thus a £3000 bid would actually cost you £4230.

    Looking at the guide prices (and the final prices) is quite deceiving because they all looked reasonably accessible.

    The search for an original continues for me! 😯


    Site Admin

    Just got home, so a full report (or at least my thoughts on the auction 😛 ) will have to wait until tomorrow. That also allows me some time to reflect on the day’s proceedings – I think the auction actually provided more questions than answers about the way that Lenkiewicz and his work are regarded by the artworld.

    My main observation (and concern) is that the 4 or 5 real high quality works didn't go anywhere near as high as I expected (they would certainly have sold for higher when Lenkiewicz was alive), whilst some of the unfinished and mediocre items went for what I would regard as 'silly money' ... I think there will be people who will live to regret their purchases.

    As for me, I placed a few bids, but came home empty-handed 😥

    And as for the selling prices, those shown on the Sotheby's website include the buyer's premium and VAT.

    But now it is time to put my feet up ... 🙄 😯 😕


    Dave Goodwin wrote:
    And as for the selling prices, those shown on the Sotheby’s website include the buyer’s premium and VAT.
    According to the Sotheby's website, VAT isn't included in the price. 🙂

    Although the guide prices looked to be deliberately understated, I suspect the auction total may have been disappointing to the Lenkiewicz
    Foundation. Their options become limited from this point onwards, barring a contribution from the National Lottery or philanthrophist.

    I haven't seen any mention of the book sale - is that at Sotheby's too? ❓

    Site Admin

    Okay, here are some of my personal thoughts on yesterday’s auction. And remember, I don’t work in the art trade, and I don’t have any connections with the Lenkiewicz Foundation, so these are very much “views from the sidelines” …

    I suppose the big question is whether the auction was a success or failure, and unfortunately I don't think there is a single front on which it can be regarded as a success.

    Financially, the auction will have raised about £500k for the Lenkiewicz Foundation (after commission and costs are deducted from the quoted £781k). Although this has always been the figure quoted in the media as the amount the auction was expected to raise, it was based upon guide prices that were commonly and widely regarded as unrealistically low. I suspect that privately the Foundation were hoping for closer to £1.5-2m. If the rumours are true about the extent of the debts, £500k is not going to go very far, so I fear that this was just the first in a large scale selling off of Lenkiewicz's remaining assets. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to find myself back at Sotheby's some time in the next 12 months.

    Sadly, I believe that the Foundation must take some of the blame. There was always something of a (financial) gamble in having the sale in London, as traditionally Lenkiewicz's work has fetched more in SW auctions than in London (galleries will tell you that they prefer London auctions, as they are more likely to find Lenkiewicz 'bargains') ... although, admittedly, a sale of this size and importance deserved and needed to be handled by one of the two major auction houses.

    Perhaps one idea might have been to have Sotheby's handle the sale, but to hold it in a large venue in Plymouth (perhaps the Pavillions). There could have been preview days in London to generate national/international interest. If the event was promoted well, I could easily see 1000+ people turning up for the actual auction. Okay, so a smaller proportion of those attending would have been potential bidders than was likely to have been the case yesterday, but the atmosphere would have been electric, which would probably have helped to create some sort of 'bidding frenzy'.

    If nothing else, it would have saved a lot of traffic on the M5 yesterday 😆

    I also have significant concerns about the items that were chosen for the auction ... there were simply too many unfinished and mediocre works. In total, I would say that there were no more than 4-6 true high quality works that showed Lenkiewicz at his very best. And considering that the sale was intended to raise the profile and recognition of Lenkiewicz outside of his SW 'stronghold', and to get the major collectors interested, this strategy simply wasn't going to work (although you can understand why the Foundation would prefer to hold onto as many of the better works as possble). Put yourself in the position of somebody who was fairly unfamiliar with Lenkiewicz's work. What would your thoughts be on viewing this selection? If you were a serious collector (the kind of person who doesn't think twice about spending £50k+ on a painting), what would you think? "Yes, this guy can do some good work, but boy is there some rubbish here" was a comment I heard yesterday.

    The serious collectors might have been to the auction preview, but I don't think that many turned up to bid. Yes, I know that one of the paintings sold for £28k, but for the buyer that Sotheby's were hoping to attract, this really is nothing (and unfortunately, Lenkiewicz will not gain the recognition he deserves (?) until his paintings regularly sell for £50k-100k. Personally, I was surprised that 2 or 3 other lots didn't reach £25k+. In fact, if you look at the figures, you will see that many of the items which had the highest guide prices actually struggled to reach the lower end of their range (at least one was unsold after failing to reach the £10k bottom end if its guide price). Compare this to some of the lesser works, which were achieving 3-4 times their guide prices.

    I suspect that there were a lot of private buyers with <£5k to spend, who were bidding up prices in the hope that they were getting a bargain. Unfortunately, I suspect that it was the people who bought paintings in the £10k-15k range who got the day's real bargains. But then again, perhaps I'm just bitter that one of the lots I was particularly interested in, went for £4500 against a guide price of £3-500 😯 😥 🙄

    Listening to the accents present, I suspect that most of the paintings were making their way back down the M5 last night. This is perhaps, again, a little disappointing, as Lenkiewicz needs to gain a wider audience.

    Perhaps I have been a little too harsh on the day and the outcomes? Perhaps others will disagree? I certainly hope that some of my fears are unfounded.

    Discuss ... 😛 😉


    Dave Elliott
    brunswick girl wrote:
    I was looking into placing some bids and when you delve into the Sothebys catalogue it states that there is a 20% fee and then you add 17.5% Vat. Thus a £3000 bid would actually cost you £4230.

    Looking at the guide prices (and the final prices) is quite deceiving because they all looked reasonably accessible.

    The search for an original continues for me! 😯

    Hi brunswick girl

    Ref. Sotheby's sale commision is at 20% VAT is only charged on the commision and not the hammer price.
    So £3000. bid will be £3000. hammer price £600. commision and £105. VAT making a total of £3705. As for the Guild prices I think they where more to get you their estimates, certainty I and the people I was with at the sale with expected to pay far more than the catalogue price.
    Good luck with your search.


    I was unable to attend the auction but was interested in a couple of lots. My view is that I was absolutely delighted that all the entries to this sale were the more mediocre and unfinished works. This gives me hope that The Foundation really will be able to keep the majority of the collection together where it belongs in Plymouth and accessible to all.

    The sale that I think is a shame is the book sale, I await the catelogue with interest!



    I was successful at the Sothebys auction and I am absolutely delighted with my buy. It was an unfinished work, however it is quite beautiful. I think his work is wonderful, and I am quite happy to invest in one of his originals. Leaving a few thousand pounds in the bank at the moment is a complete waste of time….

    Great site and keep up the good work. 🙂


    Site Admin
    pmslanning wrote:
    This gives me hope that The Foundation really will be able to keep the majority of the collection together where it belongs in Plymouth and accessible to all.

    Despite the reservations I've expressed above, as a fan of Lenkiewicz's work and a Plymothian, I sincerely hope you are right.

    However, I am a little concerned about the apparent shifting aims of the Foundation. Whereas previously the stated aim has been to keep the collection together, they now say on the official site - "The aim of the sale is to raise money to pay the estate's debts so that a core collection of paintings can be preserved".

    I can't help but wonder what constitutes a 'core' collection? Is it 10? 50? 100? 650? And what about the books? Like many others, I suspect that Lenkiewicz would be more upset to see the breaking up of his book collection than his artwork.

    Site Admin
    The Independent wrote:
    He once embalmed the body of a tramp and kept it in a secret drawer at his studio, a place that also contained a parchment lampshade made at Auschwitz, the skeleton of a woman hanged for witchcraft in the 16th century and a 100,000 volume library of rare and ancient books.

    Robert Lenkiewicz, the artist based in Plymouth, Devon, who died last year at the age of 60, was one of the country's great eccentrics with an enduring fascination for life outside the mainstream.

    But Lenkiewicz did not, unlike many modern artists post-Damien Hirst, deliberately set out to shock and disturb. He was mainly a painter of relatively conventional figurative art whose work was largely ignored by the art establishment during his lifetime although it was loved by many ordinary people, particularly in the West Country.

    Lenkiewicz's growing status was endorsed yesterday when Sotheby's staged an auction in London of 155 of his works to raise money to cover outstanding debts on his estate, largely caused by storage, legal and insurance fees. The sale, which was expected to raise about £500,000, raised almost £800,000 with the highest price of £26,000 paid for The Bishop and Painter - Dancing to Mahler. Previously, the highest price paid publicly for a Lenkiewicz work was £13,000. "It's gone extremely well, much better than we expected and the saleroom was packed with both ordinary buyers and dealers,'' a Sotheby's spokeswoman said. "Although some of the work sold will be going back to the West Country, a lot of it has been bought by people from all over the country.''

    In November, Sotheby's will be staging another auction - this time of just a small part of Lenkiewicz's massive collection of books. His rambling studio was lined with shelves containing obscure and ancient volumes, some dating back to the 15th century, on subjects including art history, philosophy, witchcraft, death, suicide and metaphysics, a collection which many believe is of international importance. The sale was set up by the Lenkiewicz Foundation, the body which inherited the artist's estate and is charged with sorting out his complicated affairs.

    Anna Navas, a trustee of the foundation, said after the sale: "It was very sad seeing the pictures being sold, but it was a horrible necessity. We hope that he will get the recognition he deserves after his death because he was a truly remarkable man.'' Lenkiewicz, who wore his hair at shoulder length and habitually dressed in flowing clothes and shapeless smocks, was more than just an archivist of the strange and unusual.

    He was born in 1941 to Jewish refugees who established homes for the elderly and deprived, which would become a recurring theme in his own work. He developed a lifelong fascination with drunks, criminals, tramps, vagrants and mentally disturbed people.

    After studying art in London, he first set up his studio in Hampstead, which he opened as a haven to the dispossessed. After being urged to move on by the police, because of the number of public complaints, he moved first to Cornwall and then to Plymouth, where he worked from a number of different properties, married three times and fathered an estimated 15 children.

    He once housed hundreds of vagrants in several warehouses around the town and painted many pictures of them, which were exhibited with a collection of notes by the sitters. Lenkiewicz had a love-hate relationship with his adopted city - after once being commissioned to paint a mural in a shopping centre, he included many local dignitaries in the nude.

    Yesterday's sale was important because of the relatively small number of his works that have been put on to the market. He rarely showed his paintings and normally kept them in his studio, only selling when he needed the money - such as the occasion when he hired part of the International Convention Centre in Birmingham in 1994 for a week-long show, which was visited by 35,000 people and raised about £500,000.

    As well as tramps, his sitters included punks and skinheads, local fishermen, a large number of women who went on to become his lovers and celebrities such as Terry Waite, Billy Connolly and the actress Lesley Joseph.

    One of the tramps he painted was a man he named Diogenes after the Greek philosopher who lived in a barrel. The tramp asked Lenkiewicz to embalm his body after his death. He died in 1984, aged 72, and the artist duly carried out the task, but then became engaged in a long battle with the authorities, refusing to tell Plymouth City Council officials where the body was being kept. It was discovered in a secret drawer, two weeks after the artist's death.

    A coroner ruled last year that the corpse was officially part of the artist's estate. Whether it is likely to go on sale at Sotheby's is not known.


    Hi Folks

    So glad to have found you all and someone to share my thoughts and views on Mr L. Alas I was not able to attend the auction but was grateful that at least the preview was in Exeter where I live so at least could get to that. I was fanscinated by the range of pictures there - some good, some not so good - but consoled myself that (hopefully) the best have been kept safe for the moment. On checking the auction prices I too was surpised that certain pieces that I would have expected to make more didn't and other make far greater than the guide prices. Alas being short of spare cash for such luxuries and have just a few prints around my home which give me immense pleasure. I was fortunate to pass him once in the street on the Barbican and will kick myself forever for not plucking up the courage to speak to him or visit his studio whilst he was alive. I am not an art expert - in fact I know absolutely nothing about art but once I saw Anna Rear View on display in a gallery on the Barbican I was so amazed by its depth I have been hooked ever since and would dearly love to own a copy of that print. Whislt I do not like all his work by any means I am amazed as his versatility and mourn the loss of a great man with incredible talent. Perhaps in death he will finally get the recognition that he so richly deserved in life. Enough of my ramblings. H



    Hello all

    I would like to take the opportunity to correct some of the misunderstandings which appear on this notice board. I am a trustee of The Lenkiewicz Foundation, and like many other people have been battling for the last year to salvage something of Robert's vision. The Lenkiewicz Foundation are the main benificiary of Robert's estate, that means that once everyone else is paid, we inherit whatever is left. We hope we will inherit a significant body of paintings and books. However, at this point Robert's estate is under control of the Executor, who has the difficult job of protecting the work while it's under his control and dealing with the many claims which have been made against the estate. The executor and NOT The Lenkiewicz Foundation instructed Sotheby's to sell paintings. The money raised goes to the executor and NOT The Foundation. Several of the trustees attended the auction and privately bought paintings in order to bring them back to Plymouth, other extremely generous people bought paintings just so the Foundation could have them on loan. It is not accurate to say the Foundations aims are changing, they are not. But until we know what will be received in terms of paintings and books it's very difficult to come forward with a clear strategy. The executor has incurred considerable post-death expenses, which when combined with claims against the estate is wiping out a large proportion of the estate. Robert left no cash, so the executor has no choice but to sell some of his assets to settle the estate. The Foundation owns nothing and has no control over what is happening. We have, however, been actively fund-raising to try to put cash into the executors hands to minimise the sales of paintings and books. If anyone has any questions about The Foundation or Robert, and you want to know the facts rather than the gossip, please don't hesitate to ring or email.

    Esther Dallaway 01752 255020



    ps. One thing I forgot to mention in the last comment was that, yes there were a great many unfinished paintings in the Sotheby’s sale, and some people might think that this compromised the quality of the sale. However, you should remember that this means that most of the really important paintings were not in the sale and are, therefore under the control of the executor. This buys us time, and will hopefully mean that those core quality paintings will be inherited by The Lenkiewicz Foundation instead of being sold off. Apart from half a dozen or so paintings in the sale which we were desperate not to lose, most of the paintings were paintings which Robert would have intended to sell himself, therefore it didn’t feel as painful to lose them. The paintings he always kept however, with a small number of exceptions, now have a fighting chance of staying together.


    Site Admin

    Hi Esther. Welcome to the site, and many thanks for your clarification of the current state of affairs re. Robert’s estate and the role of the Foundation. It seems that there is a lot of misinformation circulating at the moment in the media and ‘on the street’ (and, obviously, repeated by myself in this thread 😳 ).

    Good luck with your efforts, and please keep us informed with news or developments.


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