Antique shop dealer’s brush with luck
A local antique dealer has had an incredible brush with luck after a €50 painting bought at auction was found to be the work of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, and could be worth up to five figures.
Maggie Mathews of the ironically-named ‘Junk’ in Virginia, says she was drawn to the roughened composition of a young girl when perusing items at one of Dublin’s weekly bric-a-brac auctions.
“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 explains, of a painting that otherwise could have been destined for the dump.
In fact, Maggie had tagged the painting at just €100 in her own shop before a curious customer piqued her interest. “I had a customer in who found [the girl’s] eyes disturbing. I however was quite adamant the man who painted it loved her,” says Maggie, who previously worked at Philips of London, as a secretary in the auction house’s Stamp department.
In a bid to assuage what she felt was an unfair aspersion cast, Maggie looked up the artist’s name - with ‘R.K. Barrett, 183 Hills Road, Cambridge’ scribbled on the rear of the portrait.
Roger ‘Syd’ Keith Barrett was born January 1946. In September 1962 he started attending Cambridge Technical College art department, where he met future bandmate David Gilmour.
In 1964, Barrett enrolled at London’s Camberwell College of Arts, the same year the band that would eventually evolve as Pink Floyd was formed.
By 1981, and considered one of the most influential musicians of all time, Barrett dramatically turned his back on the industry, returning to Cambridge to live out his days as a recluse and painter.
Despite this, not many of his works survive, since Barrett’s habit was to photograph the finished product before destroying or painting over them. This only adds to the rarity factor of Maggie’s extraordinary find.
It’s believed the girl in the painting is Libby Gausden, Barrett’s then girlfriend. The painting is dated ‘12-2-64’, two days before Valentine’s Day.
Barrett only ever painted for himself, and rejected any request for commissions. Following his death in July 2006, aged 60, nine of Barrett’s paintings fetched £121,000 at auction.
A native of Hertfordshire, England, but living in Crover for more than quarter of a century, Maggie began her new business as an antiques dealer on Virginia’s Main Street last May. Never did she believe on one of her trawls for hopeful shelf-fillers that she’d uncover something quite so unique.
“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,” she giggles excitedly.
“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,” adds Maggie, who has now set about trying to piece together the painting’s origins, and how it ended up in a dusty Dublin auction room.
So far she has found that the same painting previously sold for a sum of £880, though doesn’t know where or when, while among those contacted by Maggie are those well endeared to Barrett’s life.
She has attempted to contact Libby Gausden herself, Barrett’s surviving family, and Will Shutes, who has written extensively about the life of one of the founding fathers of psychedelic rock. “[Shutes] said it’s nearly doubtless it’s the original,” relays Maggie, with the co-author of the book ‘Barrett’ registering his personal interest in obtaining the artwork for his own art collection.
“Amazingly, this is one of those unique crossover finds that’s of interest to both to art lovers and music aficionados. It’s exciting!”