The Baron and South Shields

Gary Wilkinson visiting the Baron's grave at Shotley Bridge.
Gary Wilkinson visiting the Baron's grave at Shotley Bridge.

The internet is a wonderful way of spreading information near and far – both instantly and over an indefinite period of time.

Take a recent email I received from Germany, for example.

It involved a story about writer Baron Avro Manhattan (a friend of Picasso and George Bernard Shaw, who ended his days in South Shields), that appeared on the Gazette’s website more than a year ago.

The article centred around an appeal by local film-maker Gary Wilkinson who was seeking information about the Italian-born aristocrat.

At the time, Gary was quoted as saying: “His life is a fascinating story.

“I am busy researching his life, from birth in Italy in 1914, through his aristocratic roots, to his writing over 50 books which sold worldwide,” added Gary, who has visited the Baron’s grave at Blackhill Cemetery in Shotley Bridge.

Now Gunda Kraepelin has contacted me from Bergisch Gladbach after reading about Gary’s appeal.

He wrote: “It was purely by chance that I came across this article on the internet. I read it with great interest, particularly because the Baron was to be the subject of a film, to which contributions were invited from readers. My memories of him will presumably come too late to be of use to Mr Wilkinson in making his film, but they may still be useful within the general context of information being gathered about Avro Manhattan in your area.

“I got to know this fascinating man, whom you know as Baron Avro Manhattan, shortly before World War II, when I was still a child, living with my older sister and our mother in our family property at Via Troubetzkoy 25, in Verbania-Suna, Lago Maggiore, Italy.

“At this time, his name was Teofilo Lucifero Gardini. He used to spend his holidays close to where we lived, in the ‘Cà Bianca’, the famous sculptor Paolo Troubetzkoy’s home. Gardini called him his ‘uncle’.

“The elderly artist obviously enjoyed the bright young man’s company.

“Our mother and Gardini shared a passion for painting. It developed into a wonderful friendship, which we as children also enjoyed.

“He created a series of paintings during these years, with motives of the Lake in particular, and presented them in several exhibitions, for the last time in 1945 in the Museo del Paesaggio, in Verbania-Pallanza.

“I have a photo of him taken at this event.

“He also wrote two of his eventually over 50 books during his Italian time, The Rumbling of the Apocalypse (1934) and Towards the new Italy (Preface by H.G. Wells) (1936), as they are titled in their English translations.

“In 1945, Gardini had to leave Italy for political reasons and moved to England. He left his paintings partly in the Museo, partly in my mother’s care in Suna. During the following years, we received letters from him occasionally, under a London address (14 Ansdell Terrace, Kensington, London, W8).

“In 1954, as a complete surprise to us, he paid us a brief visit in Suna. At this occasion, he took some of his best paintings with him. We never heard from him again. The some 10 paintings which he had left behind, are still stored in my home in Suna. I have not decided yet about how to proceed with them (my sister died in 2012).

“In 1944, our property in Suna was confiscated, so we moved back to Germany, where our family had come from. The estate was given back to my family in 1954 under specified conditions. I started an academic career in Germany and retired from a professorship at the Technical University of Berlin in 1993. I am now living near Cologne.

“I would be pleased, of course, if I could learn more about the outcome of Gary Wilkinson’s research, and would appreciate obtaining any available information about it. Likewise, it will be my pleasure to answer any questions he might have about Gardini’s Italian past, as limited as my knowledge may be.”

If there is another chapter in this fascinating story, I will, of course, keep you posted.