07 May 2013

Frank Prewett on Canvas and Paper (w/ updates)

Frank Prewett ranks amongst the very best of the Great War poets. Anyone looking to challenge this statement should consider the poem at the end of this post. That Frank Prewett was also Canadian explains why it is that our media has ignored entirely two items being auctioned tomorrow afternoon at Bonham's on London's New Bond Street as part 'The Roy Davids Collection'.

I appreciate that Four Weddings and a Funeral fans will be attracted to the autograph manuscript copy of Auden's 'Stop All the Clocks' – already sold for £23,750 – but for me the gem is the  Prewett portrait above. Bonham's estimates that it will go for £1500 to £2000 – six to eight percent of the Auden poem, £642,790 less than the cost of airlifting Mr Harper's limousine to India. Painted in 1923, the work of Prewett's lover Dorothy Brett, it once belonged to Siegfried Sassoon.

I'd not seen it before, nor had I seen this other Prewett item:

Anyone know it?


More to the point, is there anyone out there who can bring these items home?

                     Hearing the whine and crash
                     We hastened out
                     And found a few poor men
                     Lying about. 
                     I put my hand in the breast
                     Of the first met.
                     His heart thumped, stopped, and I drew
                     My hand out wet. 
                     Another, he seemed a boy,
                     Rolled in the mud
                     Screaming "my legs, my legs,"
                     And he poured out his blood.
                     We bandaged the rest
                     And went in,
                     And started again at our cards
                     Where we had been.

The following day: Well, it turned out that both portrait and poem realized more than was estimated – £2500 and £1750 respectively. No word yet on the purchaser. Dare I hope that it was the Canadian War Museum? Yes, I dare.

Bruce Meyer, co-editor of Selected Poems of Frank Prewett, tells me that he doesn't recognize the auctioned poem.

And the day after that: I'm informed that the Canadian War Museum was the successful bidder. I could not be more pleased.

Related post:


  1. Dear Brian: I was the one who found "The Card Game" in the University of Texas Archives. It was scribbled on the back of a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell. In her response, she said "don't write anything like that again. It is morbid." James Fenton when he as Oxford Professor of Poetry called it "one of the greatest poems written during the First World War." See The Selected Poems of Frank Prewett (Exile Editions, 1987) and We Wasn't Pals: Canadian Poetry and Prose of the First World War (Exile Editions, 2000 and reissue forthcoming this year.

  2. Wow. I love the way he shrugs off what he has seen--that it has become so ubiquitous that he can return to something like a game of cards. The portrait is terrific. It should be in a Canadian museum.
    Do you know the story of the Cromwell sisters? I am trying to write a story about them.

    1. The Cromwell sisters, Patti? I'm afraid I don't.

  3. Tell you about them at the end of July. They were poets too.

  4. I registered to bid because of seeing this post. I dropped out at 1500 pounds on the portrait and 750 on the ms. I was hoping the winner was a Canadian public museum-- delighted to hear that it was.

    1. Good man, David. I wasn't sure that the CWM had bid until after the auction. I too was delighted by the result.