Singular painter springs one last surprise

Eccentric artist who kept embalmed tramp at home seemed to be penniless. Now the 240 claimants on his estate have £6.5m to share

When the artist Robert Lenkiewicz died in 2002, it was thought that all he had left behind was £12 in cash, vast debts and the remains of an embalmed tramp he kept in a cupboard. Despite completing up to 10,000 paintings, the notorious Plymouth artist was proud of having no bank account and believed he would die insolvent.

Until recently it seemed his predictions had come true, which would have been simple and, perhaps, in keeping with his eccentric life. But now after seven years of trawling through his affairs, the executors of Lenkiewicz's estate have discovered that far from leaving a mountain of debt, his remaining belongings are worth £6.5m.

Unravelling his legacy has proved complicated: Lenkiewicz never paid tax or kept any records of the sales of his paintings, which he stored at locations all over the country. He was also priapic, fathering 11 children and leaving some 240 claimants to emerge from the woodwork when he died of a heart attack aged 60.

Then there was the matter of the preserved vagrant. Alcoholics and the homeless were often the focus of Lenkiewicz's work, but few would have guessed that he had one pickled and kept in a cupboard for 18 years.

Lenkiewicz painted Edwin MacKenzie – whom he named Diogenes – after finding him living in a concrete barrel overlooking a local rubbish tip. When MacKenzie died from cancer in 1984 aged 72, the artist kept a promise to have him preserved as a "human paperweight". But the question of to whom the tramp's body belonged resulted in a drawn-out legal battle with the Plymouth coroner, eventually requiring Lenkiewicz's executor to dredge through case law from the Middle Ages.

The son of a Jewish refugee, Lenkiewicz was born in London but moved to Plymouth in 1964 where he spent the rest of his life painting the city's underclass. His work never received critical acclaim, but it continues to be popular.

The unexpected solvency of the artist's estate is largely thanks to the many works he left behind, which soared in value after he died and his notoriety grew.

The artist's estimated £1.7m debts have now been settled and the paintings will be donated to the Lenkiewicz Foundation, a trust set up to preserve his legacy, which is forming a permanent exhibition of his work.

As well as paintings, books and diaries the foundation is also expecting to receive Mr MacKenzie's body, and the skeleton of a woman executed for witchcraft in the 16th century.

Estate executor Peter Walmsley said he was relieved at the outcome. "I've seen a written record left by Robert saying that he thought it [his estate] was insolvent," he said, "but fortunately because of the way we staggered the sales, with values of the artwork increasing as time went on, we've been able to make the value of the assets exceed the liabilities."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing