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Whether Lenkiewicz was a great artist remains rather more open to doubt, particularly among the mandarins of London’s Contemporary Art scene, who could never quite take seriously his flamboyantly painted Projects exploring the artist’s obsessive preoccupation with sex, death and destitution.

The great British public takes a rather different view. In 1994 some 35,000 admirers turned up to Birmingham’s NEC to see the only major exhibition to be devoted to Lenkiewicz’s work outside his native Plymouth. Following his death from heart disease in August last year, there are plans to realise Lenkiewicz’s dream of turning his Barbican studios into a “foundation” to showcase his ideas and his art, financed by auctions of his paintings and his enormous library.

Predictably, the Lenkiewicz faithful were out in force at Sotheby’s Olympia’s (20/12% buyer’s premium) September 18 sale, held in conjunction with the Devon auctioneers Bearne’s, of 150 paintings and drawings from the late artist’s studio. A standing-room-only crowd of some 400 people turned up to the sale itself with almost half of these made up by West Country locals hoping to take a piece of Plymouth’s most famous contemporary artist back down the M5.

“It was madness,” admitted auctioneer Freya Mitton. “I’ve never seen so many people in the room, and so many who’d never bid at auction before.”

Coaxing bids out of these initiates took a marathon three hours, but Mitton’s patience was rewarded with a complete sell-out which totalled a premium-inclusive £781,140 against a pre-sale estimate of £370,000-500,000.

The sale was organised by theme with self-portraits and decorative images of Lenkiewicz’s most attractive female models proving to be the subjects most consistently in demand.

This was always going to be the sale where a new auction record was set for the artist and this was duly achieved by the last lot of the sale, a moodily iconic (albeit unsigned and unframed) Self-Portrait of the artist in his latter years, measuring 2ft x 2ft (61 x 61cm), which sold to a West Country private at £24,000 against an estimate of £2500-3500.

A Devon private buyer bid a further £15,000 (estimate £6000-8000) for a 4ft 9in x 3ft 23/4in (1.45m x 98cm) father and sons group, The Painter with Wolfe and Reuben.

Arguably the one ‘disappointment’ of the sale was the performance of the enormous 1972-1973 oil on sail cloth composition, The Bishop and the Painter - Dancing to Mahler, showing the artist and three vagrants dancing to a wind-up gramophone in the cavernous expanses of Lenkiewicz’s Barbican studio.

Sotheby’s had thought the monumental scale and dreamy, almost Stanley Spencer-like quality, of this 7ft 2in x 9ft 10in (2.18 x 3m) painting made at a time when he was so impoverished he had to rely on materials donated by his dosser chums would inspire a truly serious price. However, the London trade was able to secure it at £22,000 against an estimate of £10,000-15,000.

Far more to the taste of the rank-and-file Lenkiewicz fans were pretty female subjects like Rachel in Red, an unframed 3ft by 3ft (92 x 92cm) canvas of a young blonde in jeans sitting astride a chair, which fetched £13,000 (estimate £3000-5000), and an ink, gouache and watercolour study for a portrait of Karen Ciambrello, which became the most expensive of the works on paper when it sold at £4000 (estimate £600-800). Both of these were bought by West Country private buyers.

Overall, around 40 per cent of all the lots were bought by private individuals from Devon and the surrounding area.

The more ‘serious’ end of the trade may think it now knows more about the art of the late Robert Lenkiewicz than it ever wanted to, but these West Country buyers (who definitely have some form when it comes to independence of thought) clearly know exactly what they like.