LENKIEWICZ 2008’ at Westpoint

PUBLISHED: 11:11 18 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:05 20 February 2013

Karen in Red on a Bentwood Chair

Karen in Red on a Bentwood Chair

Daniel Goddard of Bearne's previews a major auction of Robert Lenkiewicz's work taking place this month at Westpoint, which represents the last chance for the public to see this collection intact

The range and output of the artist Robert Lenkiewicz is astounding and 'LENKIEWICZ 2008' at Westpoint, Exeter, from 10-12 April, will be the last-ever opportunity to see such a major collection of work by the Plymouth artist who died in 2002. Comprising over 500 paintings, drawings and artefacts from the Barbican studios, the exhibition is open to the public for two days before the auction sale on Saturday 12 April. The sale includes work which spans the whole of the painter's life, with drawings and sketches from the 1950s when Lenkiewicz lived in Hampstead to work completed in the year of his death - work that covers almost 50 years, which in itself is a documentary of the path, the style, the attitude, the circumstance and the life of Robert Lenkiewicz.

Sheer scale and impact

The auction includes all the remaining monumental and important paintings from the Lenkiewicz estate which will, for the time being, retain a small core group of work. Of a number of important paintings in the sale, none is more so, for sheer scale and impact, than the 11-metre long canvas depicting The Temptation of St Antony. Unseen in public for over a decade, this iconic work was the culmination and centrepiece for a project entitled The Painter With Women, and was inspired by Bosch and Brueghel depictions of St Antony surrounded by demons, with burning buildings and other cataclysmic features. The Lenkiewicz interpretation depicts a line of women, and instead of demons and hell, it depicts Southside Street on the Barbican on a Saturday night. It will be offered here with an estimate of £100,000-£150,000.

Of equal importance within the exhibition is a large group of other stellar works and includes most of Lenkiewicz's major paintings not already in private hands. At the pinnacle of this group is Death Bed inspired by Gustave Courbet and the artist's own experience of his mother's death. Also within this elite group is Plymouth Mourning Over its Unfortunates, a signature and pinnacle work within one of the most important Lenkiewicz projects, Vagrancy. The contrast between the grand scale and the meaning of these major paintings is thought-provoking. Lenkiewicz relates and links major themes, ancient history and important philosophy with the plight of the ostracised and the unseen fringes of society.

A central theme of relationships

Through his life, Lenkiewicz investigated and painted along two relentless paths which clung to the central theme of relationships. One path was to examine and portray the lives of ostracised or hidden sections of the community, and in a parallel but separate investigation he considered human nature and physiology in a state of crisis. This all sounds involved and complicated, but in reality deals with issues right at the heart of our day-to-day lives, and because of this 'LENKIEWICZ 2008' contains works which are relevant and accessible.

Away from the grand scale are many exquisite drawings and sketches, which show the breadth of skill of the painter and are evidence of a bewildering dedication and extraordinary output. The pencil portrait of Reuben, the painter's son, is a typical example of spontaneity and unsurpassed confidence. And to emphasise the colossal body of work, there are hundreds of fascinating and beautiful drawings, each one a record of an event or a meeting or a fleeting thought or idea inspired by the world around us.

Within a different context the timeless Lenkiewicz themes inspired a group of paintings, drawings and sketches at odds with the figurative and familiar style of the painter. In order to express and represent controversial, difficult and unresolved issues, Lenkiewicz also worked in a 'secret-language', the results of which are again thought-provoking and innovative. Lenkiewicz sought to challenge us to consider the world around us. The incredible painting entitled Man Presenting his Entrails is in the same moment both beautiful and horrific, and at its heart is inspired by physiology, emotion and privacy.

There are also dozens of wonderful paintings of the models and sitters familiar to collectors and fans of Lenkiewicz. These are some of the most popular and sought-after images, and with the range and variety on offer there is an opportunity to select a favourite from a huge choice.

To round off this snapshot of the epic auction there are a group of fine and important self-portraits including Self-Portrait at 16 with Punch Magazine. The iconic, powerful and haunting early work looks back at us from a place and past, and perhaps foreshows the attitude, ego and future of a painter with immense skill and whose dramatic life complemented his artistic achievement.

'LENKIEWICZ 2008' takes place at Westpoint, Exeter, 10-12 April. Entry to the exhibition is free but catalogues cost £15 (£18 by post) from Bearne's. (01392) 207000, www.bearnes.co.uk

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