From Letchworth to the Highlands: Search for mystery artist behind ‘special’ First World War collection

PUBLISHED: 17:02 25 March 2020 | UPDATED: 17:02 25 March 2020

The collection of 27 oil paintings is currently owned by David Boothby, in the Scottish Highlands. Picture: David Boothby

The collection of 27 oil paintings is currently owned by David Boothby, in the Scottish Highlands. Picture: David Boothby

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War researchers are trying to find the lost artist who painted a remarkable collection of First World War oil canvasses, believed to originate from Hertfordshire.

The collection of 27 oil paintings is currently owned by David Boothby, in the Scottish Highlands. Picture: David BoothbyThe collection of 27 oil paintings is currently owned by David Boothby, in the Scottish Highlands. Picture: David Boothby

Little is known about the author of the 27-strong collection, other than their name is ‘Ray’ – and most of the paintings are dated between 1981 and 1984.

The majority of the collection depicts battle scenes from the Western Front in Belgium and France, such as Le Cateau, Neuve Chapelle and Zeebrugge.

In 2014, they were displayed at an exhibition staged by the Herts at War group, at The Arcade in Letchworth, to mark the centenary of the beginning of the war.

Dan Hill, who organised the exhibition, thinks ‘Ray’ might have worked in the template department at Vauxhall in Luton – but there the trail goes cold.

The collection of 27 oil paintings is currently owned by David Boothby, in the Scottish Highlands. Picture: David BoothbyThe collection of 27 oil paintings is currently owned by David Boothby, in the Scottish Highlands. Picture: David Boothby

Many of the works – thought to be valued at around £4,000 in total – are expertly painted reproductions of well-known photographs published in journals and newspapers during the war.

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The collection is currently owned by David Boothby, a collector and antique dealer who lives in Strathpeffer in the Scottish Highlands, having moved from Hertfordshire.

David told The Comet: “I bought the paintings from a friend called John Hayden, who lives in Letchworth. He’s a well-known militarian and historian, and he picked them up at Hitchin market.

“I did a bit of digging and spoke to the man who John bought them from, and he tells me the paintings were sold by someone who’d found them in a car boot sale.

“He understands that the collection was originally unearthed in a house clearance, which unfortunately would imply a deceased estate – but you can’t know for sure.”

David added: “I’m no First World War expert, but when I looked at the paintings, everything just seemed right. John has told me that all the little details are accurate. Often you find with First World War paintings that the weapons are wrong, or the uniforms aren’t quite right.

“But these are completely accurate. I think that’s what makes them special. They have a wonderful clarity and energy, and they clearly meant a lot to the man who painted them. Once the World War I buffs see them, I don’t think I’ll have any trouble selling.

“It would be wonderful if we could find out more about the artist, and give him due credit, even if it’s posthumous.”

Anyone who recognises the paintings, or has possible information about the identity of ‘Ray’, should contact David at davidboothby60@gmail.com.


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