A remarkable story could be found on the 16th of August 2018 in The Anglo-Celt, a weekly local newspaper published in Swellan (Cavan, Ireland). Written by Seamus Enright and bearing the title 'Antique shop dealer’s brush with luck' it tells how a local antique dealer bought a €50 (approx. £45 or $58) painting that turned out to be a Syd Barrett original from 1964, missing since 1994.
Maggie Matthews from the aptly named 'Junk' store in Virginia (Cavan, Ireland) went to one of Dublin's weekly 'bric-a-brac' auctions and was attracted by a painting of a young girl.
It was her eyes that drew me in. She was sitting on a table, filthy and covered in dust, as if you weren’t supposed to see her really.
Maggie bought the painting and put it in her shop, with a €100 price tag. When a customer told her he found the portrait disturbing, she decided to have a closer look at it. At the bottom right side it was signed by a Roger Barrett, dated: 12-2-64, at the backside the painter had left his name and address:
183 HILLS ROAD
She decided to Google the name and almost fell from her chair when she found out there were over 9 million results. Clearly this wasn't an ordinary bloke.
New car, caviar
It didn't take too long for Maggie Matthews to realise she was sitting on something unique... and potentially valuable.
It’s the kind of thing you read about in newspapers or online. As an person interested in antiques and art, it’s the sort of thing you secretly dream of happening, but never dare believe it will.
Painted two days before Valentine, Maggie Matthews believed at first it was a painting of Barrett's girlfriend Libby Gausden, but that doesn't seem to be the case. At the Birdie Hop Facebook group, where the find was obviously discussed, Libby reacted that she has 'no idea' who could be the young woman. Another member of the sixties beatnik Cambridge mob and a painter as well, Mick Brown, has about the same to say: “I wouldn't know...”
As usual the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit has its own idea. The woman on the painting could simply be a model from the academy. What we have is not a picture of his beloved girlfriend, but a school assignment. In late 1961 Barrett followed evening classes in life drawing at the School of Art. He would enter that school the next year, until 1964. In September 1964 he left for London to go to Camberwell Art College, but instead of taking a brush in his hand, he picked a guitar. We all know how that ended.
Lambs thrown to the Lions
But before making the great leap forward towards the capital city, he and his pal Anthony Stern had an exhibition entitled 'Two Young Painters' at the Lion and Lamb pub in Milton. It was held between 29 May and 25 June and as usual different people tell different stories, some say Barrett may have sold at least one painting, others claim nothing came out of it. What we can be sure of is that the exhibition was reviewed by journalist Anthony Day in Cambridge News, titled Milton Art Display.
Barrett's work shows some of the advantages of an art school training. His prints, monotypes and drawings are slight but necessary student exercises but in two still-lives and two convincing portraits, he is already showing himself a sensitive handler of oil paint who wisely limits his palette to gain richness and density. (Holy Church Tumblr link to the article: Milton Art Display.)
Portrait of a Girl could well have been one of the more 'convincing' paintings at the show. We don't know what happened with the painting after the exhibition, but luckily a (pretty bad) black and white picture of it exists. It was published in a 1994 Record Collector when it was announced the portrait was auctioned for £880. Unfortunately it immediately disappeared for a second time, until last week.
In their Barrett art catalogue, Russel Beecher and Will Shutes write:
His Portrait of a Girl, sold in auction in 1994 but not seen since its reproduction in Record Collector, November 1994, p. 121, reveals to an extent – despite the poor image available – the sensitive handling of oils to which [Anthony] Day refers.
Maggie Matthews has some nice things to say as well:
Even at that young age you can see his talent as an artist developing. He really caught her without over-working it too much, and I actually love that she’s not trying to look good for the artist. I love too that he hasn’t tried to flatter her. I find it very honest.
Sydiots and other folk
A photo of The Anglo-Celt front page was put on the Syd Barrett Fan Page (Facebook) by Paul McCann, minutes later it landed on Birdie Hop and was immediately discussed by Sydiots and Barrett brides alike.
Mark Jones, photo archivist at the official Syd Barrett website, had the following to say:
So someone bought it for £880 20 years ago, knowing it was by Syd, and then must have 'lost' sight of it and it turns up for sale for £50?
Clay Jordan replied:
I was thinking perhaps the person who bought it passed away and the people who dealt with the belongings didn't know what it was.
Unless it was stolen?
Others thought it could be a fake, made to fool collectors. People have been faking $10,000 Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett records before (see: Scream Thy False Scream), but it seems a bit ridiculous to duplicate this relatively unknown portrait and then sell it for €50. Gid Giddoni compared both pictures and concluded:
It might be very well the exact same artwork portrayed in the 1964 photo. (…) If you look at the nose, you'll see the exact same shape. Same for the mouth / chin. I would give it 95% possibility to be the same artwork.
Maggie Matthews contacted Will Shutes who said it is nearly doubtless it is the original, although further investigation might be necessary. The Barrett family was contacted and although Rosemary Breen does not recognise the painting she has said that the handwriting on the back looks like Roger's indeed.
Birdie Hop and Late Night members certainly will have their say as well about the signature and handwriting on the canvas, looking more authentic than the fake Barrett poem that was once auctioned for £2,160 (see: Bonhams Sells Fake Barrett Poem). At least one collector has already shown interest in acquiring the painting, so let's just hope it doesn't disappear again, for a third time. Maggie Matthews:
Amazingly, this is one of those unique crossover finds that’s of interest to both to art lovers and music aficionados. It’s exciting!
Our Tumblr image gallery will publish even more pictures, the next couple of days, including a scan of the Anglo-Celt article: Portrait of a Girl.
All Maggie Matthews quotes and pictures in this post have been taken
from The Anglo-Celt online article: Antique
shop dealer’s brush with luck.
Newspaper frontpage picture taken and send to the Church by Maggie Matthews.
The 1964 Anthony Stern & Roger Barrett exhibition where this portrait may have been displayed: Lion and Lamb, 1964.
Many thanks to: Birdie Hop, Seamus Enright, Libby Gausden, Gid Giddoni,
Alex Peter Hoffmann, Penny Hyrons, Mark Jones, Clay Jordan, Maggie
Matthews, Paul McCann, Göran Nyström.
♥ Libby ♥ Iggy ♥
Sources (other than the above internet links):
Beecher, Russell & Shutes, Will: Barrett, Essential Works Ltd, London, 2011, p. 174-175.
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press Limited, London, 2013, p. 32.