Friday, March 16, 2012

Duckworth Makes a Sale

This ink and watercolor drawing by Ronald Searle shows prisoner of war Padre Noel Duckworth selling a Parker Pen to his Japanese prison guard. It is remarkable that Duckworth single-handedly could run a black market in Pudu Jail and use the proceeds to buy food for his fellow prisoners of war. Searle has done a fine job recollecting the event.

Sale B290212 Lot 247
Ronald SEARLE (1920-2011) Noel Duckworth selling a Parker pen to a Japanese guard in Pudu Jail
signed lower right and with signatures of other former prisoners 
44 x 23cm; together with 
BRADDON (Russell) The Naked Island, 1960 reprint, signed and inscribed by Noel Duckworth "Don't Believe It, Its All True! His X Mark" and "I Agree With The Above", Ronald Searle 25th April 1967 Cambridge 

Note: Padre Noel Duckworth coxed the Cambridge rowing eight before the war and at the Battle of Batu Pahat was captured with the wounded whom he was tending. Duckworth was described as fearlessly outspoken yet could be very kind. He created a black market with the Japanese in the gaol selling them all sorts of things. He would use the proceeds to buy food for the inmates. The author Russell Braddon talks about Duckworth in his book The Naked Island (1952). This watercolour was sketched by Ronald Searle and presented to Duckworth when he appeared on "This is your life" for the BBC. 
Estimate £2,000-3,000
Sold for 4,600 GBP on February 29, 2012.

May 12, 2012 Update:  This piece is currently offered for sale by London art dealer Chris Beetles in his exhibition Ronald Searle Remembered, May 22 - June 9, 2012 for 12,500 GBP. The full cost of the work purchased from Cheffins on Leap Day was 4,600 GBP plus a 23.4% buyer's premium for a total of 5,676 GBP. I'm going to arbitrarily estimate that the cost of the book at auction was 100 GBP of the hammer price (123 GBP with the buyer's premium) and the artwork the remaining 4,500 GBP (5,553 GBP with the premium, assuming a dealer would be exempted from any VAT on the buyer's premium). The dealer's markup on the artwork is then an estimated 125% above cost. By that same reckoning, the markup on the signed and inscribed book would be 184%. And that, my friend, is how you pay for gallery space in St. James's.

Item 15, Ronald Searle Remembered catalogue, Chris Beetles Gallery, May 22 - June 9, 2012, page 17

Item 15, Ronald Searle Remembered exhibition sale price, Chris Beetles Gallery, May 22 - June 9, 2012

Item 14, Ronald Searle Remembered catalogue, Chris Beetles Gallery, May 22 - June 9, 2012, page 16

Item 14, Ronald Searle Remembered exhibition sale price, Chris Beetles Gallery, May 22 - June 9, 2012
Ronald Searle, Canon Noel Duckworth Selling a Parker Pen to a Japanese Guard in Pudu Gaol, Chris Beetles Gallery

May 28, 2012 Update:  The original artwork of Canon Noel Duckworth Selling a Parker Pen to a Japanese Guard in Pudu Gaol which was offered for sale by Chris Beetles at 12,500 GBP is now listed by the gallery as sold. The book, priced at 350 GBP, has disappeared from the website altogether.

Note:  This blog's own most recent post on Ronald Searle's artwork can be found here.

To learn more about Searle's incarceration as a prisoner of war, be sure to check out the always-fascinating Ronald Searle Tribute Blog here. 



  1. I wouldn't have thought this was drawn in Changi Jail. The drawing was presented to Duckworth when he was the subject of 'This Is Your Life' in 1959

    1. I was wondering about that, Matt. It seems too finished to have been done in prison, but too realistic not to be based on drawings or sketches from the time. I'll accept your suggestion that this was drawn years after the fact.

    2. I've modified the text slightly to reflect that this was not created in prison camp.

  2. I always wonder where these pictures go after auction- who wins them? I would hope this one ends up in the IWM, London with the rest of Searle's POW archive

  3. Some years ago now, my wife and I attended a charity event in another couple's well-appointed home. I seldom pay much attention to furnishings, but I do generally take note of what people have framed on the walls. In this case, I was surprised to see a George Grosz drawing I recognized from a recent New York auction. We got to talking about it with them, and my wife and I realized that probably a lot of artwork we liked was sold to people very much like us.

    I would imagine that most people who pay almost 5,000 pounds for a work of art do so without entertaining the idea of eventually donating it to the most appropriate institution. Some might, but most probably don't. If arrangements aren't made in the owner's lifetime for it to be donated, it will probably be left to the children, who will in all likelihood simply want to get as much cash for it as they can. So I would think the chances for this ending up in the collection of the Imperial War Museum are slim.

  4. You're right I believe it was sold by a member of the Piddington family