Prison art by Kray twins to be sold at auction

Glimpse into the SURREAL friendship of the Krays and Francis Bacon: Prison art by East End gangsters and letter to them from the expressionist painter are set to fetch £11,000 at auction

  • Cowboy image could sell for up to £1,500 at Chiswick Auctions in West London
  • Also included in the sale is an oil painting of a crucifixion scene by Ronnie Kray
  • Third lot is letter sent by Francis Bacon to Ronnie after gangster sent him drawing 

It is a drawing of a cowboy which could easily have been produced by a proud school child.

But the crayon depiction was in fact drawn by gangster Reggie Kray – after he and his brother Ronnie had been sentenced to life in prison for murder.

Now, the drawing is among three lots related to the notorious Kray twins which are being sold by an anonymous seller later this evening. 

The cowboy image is expected to sell for between £1,000-1,500 at Chiswick Auctions in West London.

Also included in the sale is an oil painting of a crucifixion scene which Ronnie painted when also behind bars. It could fetch £3,500.

A third lot is a typed letter sent by famous painter Francis Bacon to Ronnie, after the gangster had sent him a drawing from his cell. It is expected to sell for between £4,000 and £6,000.

Writing in September 1989, Bacon thanked Kray, who was imprisoned at Broadmoor hospital, for the drawing and said that he was ‘glad to hear’ that he was well but added that he had been ‘ill for some time’. 

He died less than three years later aged 82.

In 2015, Bacon’s long-time friend Michael Peppiatt revealed that the painter had told him how both Kray twins repeatedly sent him ‘very odd’ drawings from behind bars – even though they had earlier ordered the theft of some of his works from his London studio.

It is a drawing of a cowboy which could easily have been produced by a proud school child. But the crayon depiction was in fact drawn by gangster Reggie Kray – after he and his brother Ronnie had been sentenced to life in prison for murder. Now, the drawing is among three lots related to the notorious Kray twins which are being sold by an anonymous collector today

Also included in the sale is an oil painting of a crucifixion scene which Ronnie painted when also behind bars. It could fetch £3,500

Ronnie and Reggie became famous for being involved in murder, armed robbery, assault and arson, as well as running protection rackets.

The nightclub owners mixed with politicians and prominent entertainers including Barbara Windsor and Frank Sinatra.

Their misdeeds finally came to an end when they were arrested in 1968 before being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment a year later.

After their convictions, they were sent to separate prisons. Reggie Kray’s cowboy drawing was produced when he was in HMP Wayland, in Norfolk. 

It is on headed paper which bears Reggie’s picture, along with a quote which reads: ‘Life is not a rehearsal, make the most of it’.  

He was transferred there in 1997 after serving time at Maidstone Prison in Kent. Reggie died in 2000 aged 66.

The Kray twins were among the most notorious gangsters in the East End of London 

Although it is not clear exactly when Ronnie painted the crucifixion scene, he was committed to Broadmoor secure hospital in 1979 after serving the first decade of his sentence in ordinary prisons.

He had been a Category A prisoner and, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, was eventually certified as insane. He died in 1995 aged 61.

Bacon told friend Michael Peppiatt that he had gained the unwanted attention of the Krays after meeting them in the 1950s.

‘I had lots of rooms so I agreed, and after that I never saw the end of him. He always seemed to be there,’ he said.

Ronnie and Reggie became famous for being involved in murder, armed robbery, assault and arson, as well as running protection rackets

The nightclub owners mixed with politicians and prominent entertainers including Barbara Windsor and Frank Sinatra

However, a few years later, Bacon is said to have been forced to buy back his own paintings at auction after they were stolen from his studio by one of the Krays’ associates.

Then, speaking after the pair were sent to prison, he added: ‘I still hear from them,’ he told me. ‘They send me these paintings they do there. They’re very odd, always of these soft landscapes with little cottages in them.’

Bacon’s letter to Ronnie reads: ‘Thank you for you letter and for the drawing. I am glad to hear you are well. I wish I could say the same about myself as I have been ill for some time.’

Ronnie Kray (left) toasting the future happiness of his brother Reggie Kray and Frances Shae after their marriage, which lasted only eight weeks before Frances left him

Who were the Kray twins? 

Twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray were jailed for life in 1969 for a regime of violent organised crime in London’s East End.

The brothers, who were later described as having a ‘love-hate’ relationship and an ‘almost telepathic bond’, were involved in a series of protection rackets, armed robberies, arson, and murders. 

The Kray twins were initially sent to separate prisons to carry out their life sentences, but their mother Violet’s campaign for them to be reunited saw them transferred to the same one.

Confidential prison records claim the twins were dubbed ‘The Godfathers’ during their time at Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight – where they were both worshipped and feared by other inmates.

Ronnie, 61, died after a heart attack at Broadmoor Hospital in 1995. His brother Reggie, 66, passed away five years later due to bladder cancer.

Their elder brother Charlie played a part in The Firm’s operations. He received a 10-year sentence and was released in 1975 after serving seven, but was sentenced again in 1997 for conspiracy to smuggle £39million worth of cocaine into the country in an undercover drugs sting. He passed away shortly afterwards in 2000 from heart complications. 

Twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray were jailed for life in 1969 for a regime of violent organised crime in London’s East End. Pictured: The twins with their mother outside their Bethnal Green home in East London in 1965

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