Like David Bowie, the singer and songwriter studied art as a young man and continued to paint throughout his life; in Barrett’s case dedicating himself to painting, as well as gardening, after he quit the music business in 1972.
Following his death, Cheffins sold the contents of Barrett’s home in Cambridge, 6 St Margaret’s Square, where he had lived since 1981. The auction in 2006 included a group of a dozen of his own works which were led at £9500 by a still-life dated to the last year of his life.
The work at the more recent Cheffins sale on May 27, although also a still-life, was very different. It was a picture from before he was famous and less abstract in approach.
Orange Dahlias in a Vase was signed and dated R. Barrett / Oct. 1961 and had been painted when he was 15 and attending Cambridgeshire High School for Boys. It was created two months before his father died of cancer.
Barrett had given the work to his art teacher Gerald Harden shortly before he left the school and it was consigned by a descendant. Harden was seemingly one of the few teachers that Barrett responded to – he was generally perceived as unmotivated but Harden’s support encouraged him to enrol at the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology.
He would later gain a scholarship to Camberwell College of Arts in 1964 and, while he stopped painting for a while after the Pink Floyd band got going, his passion for art never ceased to burn until his death.
The 23 x 17¼in (58 x 44cm) watercolour and pastel here certainly shows his early promise at painting.
Although altogether different in composition and approach to nearly every work by Barrett having emerged at auction before, the date seems to have given it special appeal to his many followers, including large numbers beyond the UK.
Estimated at £3000-5000, it drew strong bidding before it was knocked down at £22,000 to a collector from Italy. The price more than doubled the previous auction record set at the 2006 sale and indicated that, like Bowie, demand and prices have moved on significantly since the respective musician’s death.