The $37,000 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 'ghost' painting



2015-06-26 11:58:40

The $37,000 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 'ghost' painting

The Sherlock Holmes author bought this painting while mourning the death of his son in WW1

A painting inspired by the psychic spirits of dead soldiers and bought by a grieving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who lost a son in WW1 will auction as part of the Owston Collection in Sydney.

Bonhams' sale will take place on June 25-26.

The painting by William Francis (Will) Longstaff (Australian,1879-1953) titled 'The Rearguard (The spirit of ANZAC)' is a huge oil on canvas measuring 539/16x 106 5/16 inches.

The pieceis estimated to sell for A$20,000-40,000 (over US$37,000). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle purchased the painting directly from theartist for his own collection, 1928.

 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wishedto be remembered for his psychic work, rather than for his Sherlock Holmes novels

The painting is an iconic image, believedmissing until now, by the Official War Artist, Will Longstaff. It is oneof a series of only six paintings which represent the pinnacle of theartist's career,beginning with his best-known work,Menin Gate.

Longstaffhad attended the unveiling ceremony of the Menin Gate memorial in Ypreson July 24, 1927.

He was so moved by the ceremony that, during amidnight walk along the Menin Road, heimagined a vision ofsteel-helmeted spirits rising from the moonlit cornfields.

It is saidthat, following his return to London, he painted the work in onesession. MrsMary Horsburgh, who had worked in a British canteen during the war, may have influenced him.

She had met him during thisevening walk, and told him that she could feel "her dead boys" allaround her. Spiritualism wasvery much in vogue in the 1920s, and many who wished to communicatewith relatives and friends who had died in battle found consolation inits tenets.

'The Rearguard'was reported to have beenpainted under similar psychic influence:

"Mr. Longstaff says that hefelt an uncanny 'urge' to paint the picture, which formed itself withlightning rapidity inhis brain," said Conan Doyle.

"He began at 7 o'clock in the morning,working unceasingly in the dim light. He had experienced a sensation notfelt in any other work, and he was surprised and delighted. It is one of the most remarkable pictures Ihave seen.

'The Rearguard (The spirit of ANZAC)' by William Francis Longstaff (Click to enlarge)

"The artist worked for 11 hours with the fury of inspiration.Genius has always been on the edge of psychicinfluence.'"

`The Rearguard (The spirit of ANZAC)',presents a ghostly array of soldiers lining upnear the beach atGallipoli in the bleak dawn, with departing transports and warshipsbarely visible on the misty horizon.

The subject is probably the most poignant of theseries: Longstaff enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at theoutbreak of the First World War and was himself injured at Gallipoli.

The ANZACtradition; the belief that the First World War, and theGallipoli Campaign in particular, was a watershed in Australian history,and that those who died on foreign soil did so to create a greaterAustralia, gave this painting an added, almost religious, significance.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who bought the painting claimed to have had conversations with the spirits of many great men, including Cecil Rhodes, Earl Haig, Joseph Conrad and others. In his later years Sir Arthur often expressed a wish that he should be remembered for his psychic work rather than for his novels.

When he celebrated his seventy-first birthday he confessed he was tired of hearing about his celebrated character, Sherlock Holmes. "Holmes is dead," he said. "I have done with him." Ten of Sir Arthur's 60 books are about 'spiritism'.

Bonhams, the international fine art auction house, is to sell the Owston Collection in Sydney on June 25-26.

The sale will be held at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay overlooking the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. A significant number of items will be offered with 'no reserve', providing an extra interest in the sale.

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