Skulls and coffins help clear late artist's debts

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The Independent Online

Paintings by the eccentric artist Robert Lenkiewicz fetched more than £1m at a 10-hour auction at the weekend.

Paintings by the eccentric artist Robert Lenkiewicz fetched more than £1m at a 10-hour auction at the weekend.

Six hundred paintings and drawings and other personal memorabilia from his estate were sold at Bearne's in Exeter, Devon, the biggest single auction of the late artist's work, which drew a crowd of 3,000. The sale was designed to clear some of the Plymouth-based artist's £1.5m debts. He died in August last year.

His work was inspired by his many lovers, as well as the vagrants and other individuals living on the fringe of society in Plymouth. A self-portrait painted in hospital was the top seller, going for £35,000 when the pre-sale estimate had been just £5,000 to £7,000. It was one of his last works.

Coffins were also among the odder lots, and a man travelled from Manchester to buy the cheapest lot, a scythe for £20.

From his Death Room, where the embalmed body of the tramp Diogenes was hidden for many years, an Eygptian sarcophagus sold for £3,500, a human skeleton for £150 and seven skulls for £60 each. A portrait of the actor Simon Callow sold for £4,000 and one of Charles Dance for £2,200.

Lenkiewicz was 60 when he died from heart disease. But more than 20 years earlier, he had faked his death to see how people would react.

Daniel Goddard, head of Bearne's picture department, said: "The varied lots reflected all aspects of the artist's life and work and Lenkiewicz's art has attracted the sort of international appeal it truly deserves."

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