LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #2 – Ciao, Avro.

The continuing search for author & artist, Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90).

Over a number of years I’ve researched the life of Italian born author & artist Baron Avro Manhattan, who spent his last years living in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. In 2018 a short documentary ‘Secrets & Lies’ was produced focusing on what I’ve found about his life so far. The link is at the end of this post.

Looking for Lucifer #2 includes research used to script a second documentary about this fascinating character. Avro was originally called Theophile Lucifer Gardini and the change of name plus a press cutting from 1938 is looked at in this post.

Daily Herald November 21, 1938.

As well as Theophile Lucifer Gardini, Avro used the name Teofilo Angelo Mario Gardini. In my correspondence with his nephew in Italy, he refers to him as Teofilo. Angelo is also the name of his brother. A childhood friend in Italy where Avro grew up, told me his second name Lucifer was given to him by his father as his mother had given their other son an ‘angelic’ name in Angelo.

A lot of artists have used pen and stage names – musicians Farrokh Bulsara to Freddie Mercury, Mary O’Brien switched to Dusty Springfield and writer Eric Blair becoming George Orwell. In 1953 Teofilo Gardini changed his name by Deed Poll to Avro Manhattan. Why did he change his name making him sound like a rock star ?

One suggestion is that post war his art or book publisher might have suggested Manhattan would be an easier sell than Gardini on the European and American market. Or more likely he wanted a clean break away from Italy and the Fascist regime who still had followers in the UK.

This press cutting above is dated November 1938 and is about an art exhibition held in Mayfair, London.   

At the Bloomsbury Galleries this week there will be an interesting one-man show by a young Italian painter. This artist is Theophile Gardini and the exhibition was to have been opened by Dr Jane Walker, believed to have been the oldest woman doctor in this country, whose death occurred a few days ago. This clever woman doctor was keenly interested in art, and was known as a discerning collector.

The newspaper article doesn’t give the doctor the credit she deserves. Dr Jane Harriet Walker (1859-1938) was a big wig of the medical profession – establishing a private practice in London’s Harley Street, and was first doctor to use the open air method of treating tuberculosis.

A recent search found the Manchester Art Gallery have a 1938 painting by Theophile Gardini titled Spring at Nayland, Suffolk. Why would he be in Suffolk ? The link is Dr Walker, who in 1901 opened a sanitorium to treat tuberculosis in Nayland, Suffolk.

Spring at Nayland, 1938

Back to the newspaper report:

Young Gardini’s art career has been rather unusual. His father, who had artistic as well as literary gifts, was a political prisoner under the Blackshirt regime and sent to a disciplinary regiment to do his military term.

The Blackshirts were the paramilitary wing of Fascist Italy led by Mussolini, and like his father, Avro despised them. In 1928 he was called up for military service, refused to swear to the Fascist oath and was imprisoned in a fortress on Lake Como. As mentioned earlier, he wanted a clean break from Italy.

The closing paragraph of the article revealed:

His son, whose work London is now to have the opportunity of appraising, was designed for the Church and went into a seminary. But his artistic proclivities, especially a facility for drawing nude figures, was judged inappropriate to seminary atmosphere, and young Theophile became a painter.

Avro would have attended the Priest training centre in Monza, Milan, where he was born. But why would the Church protest against his style of painting, understanding this form of art he would have been an asset to the Church as most are covered in paintings and sculptures of people. Surely they can’t have expelled him for a few drawings ?

He might have uncovered secrets and was dismissed because of what he discovered ? In later years Avro wrote many books against the Vatican and the Catholic Church and their position in world politics. A topic he became well known for in religious circles.

If you have information about Italian born artist & author Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Gary Alikivi  April 2021

Link to documentary film:

The Life of Baron Avro Manhattan – SECRETS & LIES – documentary (Alikivi,12 mins 2018). – YouTube

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