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In:At the end of September, I received a direct message on Instagram. “Hi, I read a piece you did about the artist Audrey Amis in the Guardian a few years ago. Wondering if she’s still interested. Think I found one of his works. Thank you.” This message from Ant Cosgrove of thenorthernartpage arrived just as the BFI-backed feature film I wrote and directed, starring Monica Dolan as Amis and Kelly MacDonald as her psychiatric nurse, was finishing. The film’s title, conceived at the start of my Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship, during which I explored Amis’ vast archive, was taken from the occupation he put on his passport:

I told Cosgrove that I was “interested” in the possible job Amis had found, downplaying the fact that his message had angered me. He replied that he was a “proper artist” and emphasized how he had studied the unsigned painting that appeared at auction. Armed with the piece’s title, Portrait of a Girl, along with the auction house’s online photo of the back of the frame, which read “exhibited at the Royal Academy 1957” and “Dutch Park,” he studied the original. Royal Academy of Arts exhibition catalog from 1957. Although there were no art reproductions on display, there were three paintings titled Portrait of a Girl, one by Amis, with her address on it.

Amis lived in student digs in Holland Park while he studied painting at the Royal Academy. It was during this time that he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, meaning he never finished his studies.and although he persisted in creating art throughout his life, it also meant that he never became a famous artist.

During my research, I saw all of Amis’s work held by Wellcome and the pieces she had given to her family and friends. I liked it all, but, curious to know what people in the art world might think, I showed a selection to the Royal Academicians, including David Remphrey, who said that his early paintings were by “a very talented lovely artist” and that his the post-royal artist. The Academy’s avant-garde work was “formally simple, witty and highly successful.” Humphrey Ocean, former professor of perspective at the Royal Academy, once held by JMW Turner, said that Amis’s later sketchbooks were “Fantastic. And very strange.” Over the years, I’ve never stopped to wonder what Amis’ art career might have been if things in his life had turned out differently.

When Cosgrove next sent me a picture of a young, seated woman knitting with a special atmosphere and subtle use of color, I wrote back: “Yeah, wow! This is definitely by Audrey Amis. I feel like I should go for it. If you’re not, I wouldn’t want to file against you. But I long to have something from him, which I do not currently have.” Cosgrove’s answer was relief. “Yes, you should propose. The story of finding it is a kick… Glad I found it for you.” Cosgrove has now revealed that the painting is included in a sale of silver and fine art at the Eubank auction in Woking, Surrey. I found on the company website. “Lot 1394. Twentieth Century British School. “Portrait of a Girl”, oil painting, framed. Estimate £200 to £300.’ Cosgrove told me to make my best offer; Frankly, your movie will raise its price anyway. Yes”.

On the day of the auction, I watched the live broadcast from 9 o’clock in the morning. I’d never bought at an auction before, and by the afternoon I was getting more and more nervous that my “bid your place” button wouldn’t work, so I bought one of the cheapest items in the auction, an 1876 Victorian Scotch silver pie spoon. – and became its new owner. Only in the early afternoon did 1,394 lots appear. The valuation peaked and I started to shake as the price went up and I knew I wasn’t going to stop haggling. I would give anything to own my own Amis. In the end it ended up being £1,000 plus auction costs. I wrote to Cosgrove to let him know I had “won” the picture. I felt like a winner, but I also started crying. The years of making the film had taken their toll, and to this day this beautiful picture, right before Amis’s collapse, when the course of his life changed radically, is such a powerful symbol in my life.

Arriving at Ewbank’s to collect the picture, where I discovered it had been sold by a ‘discerning collector’, it seemed incredibly fitting that, as the film is called ‘Typist Artist Pirate King’, the picture was given to me by the ‘Auction House Delivery Manager’ By Linda King.


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