Ten years ago on Antiques Roadshow, a remarkable story unfolded when a painting was brought in for valuation. It was thought to be a copy of William Orpen’s notorious WW1 painting originally titled “The Spy”, later renamed “The Refugee”. In fact the girl in the picture was neither, she was Yvonne Aubicq, the artist’s mistress. Claiming she was a German spy caused great embarrassment with the British authorities, which Orpen struggled to sort out. The original painting has been on display at the Imperial War Museum for many years (below).
The owner of this particular painting, John, had owned it for a long time and believed it to be nothing more than a very good copy. But Rupert Maas, the Antiques Roadshow expert, was convinced it was too good to be a copy. He had a hunch it was painted by Orpen himself, and valued it at £20-30,000. John was delighted!
But there was more. With some further research, Rupert Maas discovered proof that John’s painting was the real thing, or in fact a second example of it – painted as a thank you to newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook, who had sorted out the difficulty over the original made-up spy story. With that provenance the painting was now valued at £250,000! John was flabbergasted, as you can imagine…
So what does this have to do with us, and with Morgans?
Firstly, Yvonne Aubicq married Orpen’s chauffeur, Williams, and with money Orpen gave them they bought a Bugatti Type 35. Williams had a successful Grand Prix career, and was best known for winning the first ever Monaco Grand Prix in 1929. He was later a celebrated member of the French Resistance during WW2.
The second part is that John, better known by his friends in the Morgan world by his nickname Robin, was a very accomplished Morgan racer back in the 1960s, as well as London Centre Secretary and a former editor of Miscellany! Having enjoyed owning the painting for many years he sold it and bought a Plus 8 with the proceeds. He died last year at the age of 88.