Sex change model causes a stir at auction house

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The portrait of a man believed to be the first female-to-male sex change recipient is attracting considerable attention at the Cotswolds auction house where it will sold next week.

The painting of Mark, with his lover Sara, was painted by an artist who relished in difficult subjects – and often found himself the subject of controversy, even after this death.

Robert Lenkiewicz, the son of Jewish refugees, was one of the UK’s most celebrated artists of modern times.

He painted 10,000 works rated of ‘national importance’ by the British Museum, and tackled themes such as vagrancy in 1973, mental handicap in 1976, suicide in 1980, death in 1982 – for which he faked his own demise – and sexual behaviour in 1983.

It is from his sexual behaviour project that the signed painting – which goes under the hammer at Moore Allen & Innocent’s Selected Picture Sale on Friday, April 12 – is taken.

Number 24 Sexual Behaviour Project 16, Lovers, Marie (Mark) & Sara, 1984 features the semi naked Sara reclining in the lap of her sex change lover.

Since his death in 2002, examples of Lenkiewicz’s paintings have fetched ever-rising prices in London auction rooms, yet when he died he had only £12 in his possession, and owed £2 million to various creditors.

And it was through debt that the vendor acquired her 149cm high painting, which she was given by the artist after she settled his City of Plymouth rates bill. The painting is expected to achieve £5,000 to £8,000.

Far less controversial, but no less valuable, is Shepherd and Sheep in an Italianate Landscape, an 82cm wide oil on canvas, unsigned but attributed to the circle of the Flemish baroque landscape painter Jan Siberechts (1627–1703). Is is expected to achieve between £6,000 and £9,000.

Also on a livestock theme is Cattle Watering with Herdsman and Sheep on a Hillock in Background, a 30cm wide oil on board signed by the renowned English landscape painter Thomas Sidney Cooper – whose work is displayed in the Tate and at the Victoria and Albert Museum – and dated 1857. It is expected to achieve £3,000 to £5,000.

After sheep and cattle, it must be time for a horse, and St Giles, is a particularly good study of a racehorse and jockey dated 1832 and signed by the artist John Frederick Herring Sr, whose patrons included Queen Victoria.

The 43cm wide oil on canvas is expected to achieve £2,500 to £3,500, as is Eventide, a landscape with a sheepdog herding sheep on a pathway in watercolours by the popular English illustrator Myles Birket Foster (1825 to 1899).

But the one to watch is a portrait of Jan Lutma, an etching after Rembrandt featuring a goldsmith seated on a high chair with a table by his side.

The etching is a highly prized first state: the Old Master added a window in the second state and objects on the table in the third. But how highly prized it is depends on whether it is a 17th century original, or a 19th century copy.

Auctioneers have given the 21cm high piece a cautious estimate of £1,000 to £1,500; but if it’s an original it could make tens of thousands of pounds.

The work of world famous artists of a completely different kind will go under the hammer at the start of the sale, in the book section.

A book of autographs collected by a VIP chauffeur for Pan Am and TWA Airlines at Heathrow Airport includes the signatures of The Beatles’ George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney; The Rolling Stones; Danny Kaye; Jack Hawkins; Orson Welles; Graham Hill; Edmund Hillary; Sonny & Cher; Julie Andrews; Beryl Reid; Roy Orbison; Bing Crosby, and others. A bid of £600 to £800 should secure the lot.

And for fans of local scenes, there are five volumes of early to mid 20th century postcards featuring towns in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, from Salisbury to Tewkesbury, taking in Swindon, Cirencester and Cheltenham, and the pretty villages of the Cotswolds. The volumes are expected to achieve between £100 and £300 each.

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