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Between 5pm on Friday, April 19 and 6.45am on Saturday 20, thieves broke into Mr Lenkiewicz’s main studio on The Barbican in Plymouth and made off with 17 pictures worth upwards of £250,000.

The canvases were cut from the stretchers with a blade and rolled up, enabling them to be pushed through a hole which had been kicked in the door.

The thieves selected a number of well-known works along with some unfinished pieces from the warehouse-sized studio. Amongst the better known pictures were Paper Crowns, a 19 by 21in (48 x 53cm) oil on canvas and Study of the Painter’s Dead Mother, an 111/4 by 91/2in (29 x 24cm) acrylic on wood panel.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Bob Pannell of Devon & Cornwall police refused to confirm or deny reports that the theft may have been carried out by thieves working for a black market dealer.

Esther Dalloway, a close friend of Mr Lenkiewicz and owner of the Fisher Mackenzie gallery next to the raided studio, said: “Robert’s work is so distinctive that I’m certain that some, if not all, of the pictures were stolen to order.”

On April 18 there was an attempted break-in at a second Plymouth studio belonging to Mr Lenkiewicz, where 15 pictures were stolen only a matter of weeks ago around the same time that thieves were disturbed at the artist’s home.

There is some comfort for the artist, however, as the latest theft came just as 30 Lenkiewicz pictures were being offered for sale at Rendell’s in Ashburton, Devon. Prior to last week’s sale, Rendells managing director Nigel Trevelyan said: “This theft has undoubtedly done us a considerable favour. Robert Lenkiewicz’s work has a huge following and can make big prices, and this theft, only 20 miles up the road, has only increased interest levels. We have been inundated with inquiries.”

Any information regarding this crime should be directed to DC Bob Pannell of Devon & Cornwall police on 0870 5777 444 quoting crime reference number EC/02/3519.